The Big Ten announced Thursday that its 2020 football season, in doubt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be conference-only. Of course, that means the Iowa-Iowa State game, played every year since 1977, will have its 43-year streak of games snapped.
In a statement, the league said “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
Thursday night on BTN, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said work on updated safety protocols and the conference-only rescheduling starts now, but he conceded nothing in 2020 is secure.
“One thing we have to realize is that this is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” Warren said. “We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten. We just wanted to make sure this was the next logical step.”
Iowa football plays Iowa State every year. In 2020, the Hawkeyes were set to begin the season Sept. 5 at Kinnick Stadium against Northern Iowa, an FCS school that announced a series of cost-saving measures Thursday in the face of a $1 million budget deficit.
UNI Athletics staff and coaches will take temporary salary reductions for fiscal year ‘21, as part of expense-saving measures. Additionally, all contract incentives for head coaches and athletics director David Harris have been suspended for the fiscal year.
Salary reductions will impact all employees making over $41,000 annually. The reductions begin at 12.5 percent for the highest-paid employees to 5 percent on the lowest tiers.
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“We are extremely disappointed that the Big Ten has chosen to compete in conference only games this fall,” Harris said in a statement. “This will eliminate opportunities for several of our sports programs. The cancellation of our football game against the University of Iowa has a significant financial impact on our department. However, we will continue to prepare for the upcoming seasons of competition and support our student-athletes during this challenging time.”
Obviously, this is a “payday” game UNI is losing. Northern Iowa athletics stood to make $650,000 for playing the Hawkeyes this year. UNI’s overall athletics budget last year was $14.5 million. These contracts come with buyouts, but the COVID-19 pandemic will fall under any “force majeure” measure, and this contract has one of those.
The Iowa-Iowa State series became super prickly last fall when members of the Iowa marching band were accosted by Iowa State fans at Jack Trice Stadium, but the game was never going away. Gov. Kim Reynolds even chimed in with “I just really don’t believe that that’s really an option.”
Last summer, Iowa and Iowa State extended the contract for the Cy-Hawk Series football game to make sure both sides will play through the 2025 season. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones have played annually since 1977, with the first meeting between the teams coming in 1894. Iowa boasts a 44-22 advantage in the all-time series. Last year’s game included more than two hours of storm delays. The Hawkeyes won by one point, 18-17, and needed to recover a muffed punt in the fourth quarter to seal it.
“We fully support the actions being taken by the Big Ten Conference, knowing that the health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is the top priority,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement. “The past few months have entailed numerous conversations between my conference colleagues, Commissioner (Kevin) Warren and our Big Ten presidents, as we have worked to navigate the challenges associated with this pandemic.
“The uncertainties have been difficult on our student-athletes and coaches and I appreciate their continued understanding of the situation. I am grateful for our fans who are also waiting for direction. While many uncertainties still exist, today’s decision will provide the greatest amount of flexibility as we move forward.”
How the Big Ten’s 2020 football season will look remains up in the air. The Big Ten said details are forthcoming. The most-mentioned scenario is a 10-game season.
Of course, this isn’t just football. The Big Ten announced that men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball also will play conference-only schedules in 2020.
Sports not on this list will continue to be evaluated, the release stated.
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The decision was made following conversations during quarantine months between the Big Ten council of presidents and chancellors, directors of athletics, conference office staff and medical experts, including the Big Ten Task force for emerging infectious diseases and the Big Ten sports medicine committee.
Also, the Big Ten announced summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in activities. By the way, mandatory team workouts for the Hawkeyes are set to begin the week of July 25. The league also said Thursday athletes who choose not to participate in their sports at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.
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