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PEOSTA - In the midst of a stump speech on the I-Club caravan, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz stopped dissecting his team and shifted the spotlight toward his athletics director.
'For the first time in the history of our program we've got two night games,” Ferentz told the crowd Tuesday night at Thunder Hills Country Club. 'Gary (Barta) was really aggressive in trying to make that happen. I think that's fantastic.”
Iowa once was an annual prime-time staple. From 2006's national broadcast of No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa through 2012, Kinnick Stadium played host to six true night football games.
But as the Big Ten's acceptance of night games has grown, Iowa's profile for hosting prime-time games has not. After a 4-8 season in 2012, Iowa did not receive a home prime-time game in 2013 or 2014. Fans vented toward Barta, and he listened. He took up the cause to Big Ten and BTN officials this off-season.
'I do think there was a lot more discussion, if you will, between them and us and them and BTN and them and ESPN,” said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration. 'The schedule certainly is a large factor in the games that are put on in prime-time.”
'I think the Iowa prime-time situation the last couple of years, it's really more schedule-related than anything, at least with BTN's position,” BTN President Mark Silverman said.
This year Iowa wades into a prime-time television pool rarely crossed in Big Ten land. First, the Hawkeyes' Sept. 19 game against Pittsburgh coincides with another BTN game - Rutgers at Penn State. It once was unusual for the Big Ten to air two prime-time games simultaneously, especially on the same network. But with all 14 teams in action, airing two prime-time games spreads out the programming for BTN.
The Hawkeyes' second home prime-time game is against longtime rival Minnesota, a game previously never played at night in Iowa City. It's also in mid-November, a new Big Ten scheduling frontier.
'Iowa-Minnesota on Nov. 14 could be key in determining the Western Division champion,” Silverman said. 'There's no Big Ten game that night so it was an obvious selection.
'With our expansion into New York and D.C., having an Iowa-Pitt game is more of national relevance and it fits sort of our broader focus of expanding the network.”
The league previously avoided outdoors November night games, mostly because of weather concerns. But other leagues, such as the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12, owned the prime-time airwaves at the season's most pivotal juncture, So the Big Ten relented and added three November night games last year and this year.
'We wanted to make sure that on the biggest stages at the biggest times we weren't absent, whether it's with ABC or whether it's BTN or whether it's ESPN,” Rudner said. 'I think our group felt like we're challenged all the time by weather in November. A lot of fans are used to November night games if they go see NFL games in this region. We don't want to necessarily go overboard on it, but we want to sort of dip our toes in the water.”
'Last year it was a great success. We had great audiences for those three games, not only in the stadium, but also on TV.”
Barta is hopeful but realistic about the November weather. On Nov. 23, 2013, Kinnick Stadium played host to its coldest game with air temperature at 21 degrees for kickoff against Michigan. On Nov. 22, 2014, it was 53 degrees at kickoff for Iowa-Wisconsin.
'Minnesota is a great opponent to try it,” he said. 'About two years ago it was Michigan, that was frigid. It was one of the coldest games we've ever been a part of, and it was in the afternoon. It could be cold or it could be a beautiful evening.”
The league rarely played at night a decade ago, let alone in November. But from 2013-15, Big Ten campuses will stage 50 prime-time games. It's possible that number could grow in the future. The Big Ten's media rights contract expires after 2016, which could require the league to add more night games.
Barta said each school could have one or two prime-time games annually.
'I knew our fans liked the night games,” he said. 'We had some great success. It's a great environment, it creates some fun. So fortunately we got them.”
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