IOWA CITY — A Tuesday announcement from the Big Ten looks like a salute to Iowa’s football program and a sock in the jaw to Nebraska’s.
You can spin the conference’s Tuesday bolt-out-of-the-blue news release differently. But Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red won’t be buying it.
The league said Iowa and Wisconsin will close the 2020 and 2021 seasons by playing each other, and Minnesota and Nebraska will do likewise. That will be a switch from the Iowa-Nebraska games that have been nationally televised the day after Thanksgiving since the Huskers began Big Ten football play in 2011.
Nebraska has played on Black Friday since 1990. Expect it to lobby to keep that date. But getting paired with Minnesota while Iowa runs off with Wisconsin says the Huskers haven’t added any prestige inside the Big Ten.
It’s never been a given Iowa-Nebraska would keep closing the season against each other, but there hadn’t been any reason to think it would leave its Friday slot anytime soon.
From Iowa’s point of view, yes, the season-ending thing with Nebraska is fun. But one with Wisconsin will be fun, too, and Madison is only half as far from Iowa City as Lincoln.
Tuesday, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta used a couple of terms repeatedly. One was “rotation,” which he insisted exists in Big Ten scheduling. The other was “conspiracy,” which he insisted does not.
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Well, “conspiracy” does seem quite a reach. But so does “rotation.” You play the same team at season’s end for nine straight years before switching things up? That’s a reboot, not a rotation.
“It’s been presented to us, we accepted, and away we go,” said Barta.
It is possible Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin will be eventually rotated against each other at the end of the season, but that hasn’t been finalized.
If Iowa closes on Saturday instead of Friday, it isn’t as if Hawkeye fans were head over heels in love with the Friday deal.
The Nebraska-Iowa series just hasn’t jumped off the television screen. That has much to do with both not being really good in the same year. Also, most of their meetings haven’t been spellbinding.
Each has been to one of the six Big Ten title games. Wisconsin has been to four. So math tells us the odds of the Badgers’ season-finale being significant is pretty good.
Assuming Iowa-Wisconsin would be a Saturday game, having it immediately before or after the Michigan-Ohio State game should give the league a robust doubleheader to send the league to its championship contest in Indianapolis the following week. It may even determine both participants on occasion.
Will Iowa-Wisconsin bring more to the TV table than Iowa-Nebraska? By 2020, who knows? Just three years ago, the Hawkeyes went 7-6 and a lot of their fans were ready for a coaching-change. Things change in three years, and sometimes change again.
But the league and its network partners must be convinced both Iowa and Wisconsin have great chances of being on solid ground in 2020. (I’m just glad people with higher pay-grades than mine seem confident there will be a 2020.)
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Wisconsin is the best game Iowa plays. It’s a time-proven Big Ten border battle. The Badgers lead the series, 45-43-2. If you didn’t know it was that close, you’d surely have guessed as much.
The programs are twin sons of different mothers, or something like that. Both teams’ stadiums are full of juice when the Badgers and Hawkeyes rumble, which is great for TV.
If FS1 had the chance to swap out Iowa-Nebraska for Iowa-Wisconsin this Black Friday, it would probably do so without holding a long committee meeting.
But whether any of these changes are wise won’t truly be known for three years.
“At the end of the day, we’re playing 12 games,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “Nine of them will be Big Ten games and they’ll all be tough.
“We’ll play them as they come. I’m not too worried about that. What I am worried about is how we play at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.”
Those darn tunnel-vision coaches, refusing to look 46 games down the road.