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IOWA CITY - Days after a report declared waning interest for a Big Ten-Pac-12 annual challenge, Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said the collaboration remains on track between the leagues.
"I think it's still a very strong possibility," Barta told The Gazette. "There's been a lot of discussions about how to implement it. We knew that when we agreed to do it back in December, we knew there was a lot of work to do to finalize all the details. There's been a lot of discussion about the details."
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News cited multiple sources in a report Tuesday writing "that several Pac-12 schools are … how should we say it? … less than enthusiastic about the partnership."
Barta, who spent seven years as a senior administrator at Washington and the last six at Iowa, said "I still have strong feelings that it will come to fruition."
The pact is scheduled to begin in 2017 and includes all sports. Football teams are asked to play one game against the other conference starting that season or soon afterward. In May, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the collaboration provides "the benefits of expansion without expanding."
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have a long-standing relationship dating to 1946 with the Rose Bowl, where their champions met annually from 1947 through 2001. Thursday, the leagues and Rose Bowl announced a long-term extension to place the game on ESPN through 2026. The Rose Bowl is run jointly by the leagues and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.
The leagues' top teams not qualifying for the new national semifinal structure beginning in 2014 likely will compete in the Rose Bowl when the site is not hosting a national semifinal.
"One of the desires is to keep that traditional match-up strong and alive so that remains to be seen," Barta said. "But that's still one of the goals, and I think it's possible under this new scenario."
The Big Ten planned to implement a nine-game conference schedule in 2017, but it was shelved because of the collaboration. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said he prefers playing against the Pac-12 annually than facing five road conference games every-other year. Just two years ago Ferentz said he was against playing West Coast non-conference games after the Hawkeyes played a 9:30 p.m. game at Arizona and returned home around 7 a.m.
"Still that's not my preference (playing late West Coast games) and hopefully we can reciprocate," Ferentz said. "Maybe we can play night games when they come here, although it's not quite as dramatic for them. That as opposed to playing five away games in conference play, I'd rather go out west, quite frankly. At least it's not quite as pivotal. You'd hate to lose an edge in conference play.
"To me the four-game/five-game schedule didn't make sense. I don't think that was good for us or for anybody in the conference, quite frankly.
"I like the idea of playing a Pac-12 school. I think it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons in that solves the four-and-five issue, too."