IOWA CITY — There’s a difference between gimmicks and genius, and holding an Oklahoma State-Iowa wrestling meet in Kinnick Stadium at 11 a.m. on Nov. 14 is the latter.
Good for Iowa. And Oklahoma State.
This says “These are two college wrestling powers, this matters, and this is special.” Many fans will simultaneously be enthralled by something totally familiar to them and something completely new.
“I don’t think I’d be on shaky ground if I say we can hold 70-plus (thousand people),” Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said at a Thursday press conference in Kinnick to announce “Grapple on the Gridiron.”
I don’t know if filling every seat in the stadium is too likely, but I’ll bet the 25,400 reserved seats are sold and the supply of general admission tickets then gets a dent put in it.
“The more, the merrier,” Barta said.
The Minnesota-Iowa football game will be in Kinnick that night, and there will be basketball played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena the night before. Why wouldn’t anyone in town for the weekend not roll over to the stadium that Saturday morning to see a true sporting spectacle?
As for weather concerns, phooey. If it rains, they’ll move the wrestling to Carver-Hawkeye. If not, it’s all systems go.
“I welcome anything,” said Iowa wrestler Thomas Gilman, who was fourth in the nation at 125 pounds last season. “I love the cold, I love the snow, I love the ice. I love Iowa. If it’s negative-30 and icing and snowing, I’ll be out there ready to go.”
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Well, the average Iowa City high temperature on Nov. 14 is 50. All that is needed to proceed outdoors is dry weather. The wrestlers and their coaches don’t care about a possible chill.
“Wrestling in cold arenas isn’t anything new, either,” said Iowa Coach Tom Brands. “I’ve wrestled on hockey rinks where they threw a tarp on the ice and the mat on the tarp.
“If you’re the one putting a guy down hard, he’s the one that feels it, not you.”
Plans call for the mat to go from the end line of the south end zone to the 9-yard line on the south half of the field. The south end zone bleachers will be great seats for a change. Reserved seats will be sold in the sections parallel to the mat, on both sides of the stadium.
On-field student seating will accommodate 350 students. That’s another good move.
This is something Brands has wanted to do for years. Especially after Iowa’s NCAA dual-meet attendance record of 15,955, set in 2008, was broken in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center with a gathering of 15,996 in 2013 for a dual against Pittsburgh. The Iowa-Penn State meet in State College drew 15,967 last February.
But an event like this, at a time of year in which college wrestling season is just starting and seldom surfaces in the national consciousness, could do what stadium hockey games have done at places like Michigan and Michigan State. People near and far will hear about it and be interested in how the day went.
It takes two to make a marketable sporting event, so give Oklahoma State big credit for signing on to play the role of the friendless villain on a big stage.
“I called (Oklahoma State Coach) John Smith and he was on board immediately,” Brands said. “It wasn’t ‘What are you talking about, wait a minute, let me get this straight.’ It was ‘We’re in.’ He’s about doing this for wrestling.”
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Iowa beat the Cowboys 24-6 two seasons ago at Carver, and whomped them 30-7 in Stillwater last season.
“They’re coming in for blood,” said Brands. “I’m sure they’re excited to be here and a part of this, but there’s a lot of joy coming in somebody’s place and making them eat a little crow, and we know that.”
Gilman, however, had a different view as he played promoter-for-a-day.
“We wrestled them in the middle of the year when they should have been the most ready to go, and they weren’t,” said the junior. “So I doubt they’re going to be ready to go in the first of the season, but man, we’re going to be ready to go. We’re fired up.”
Mother Nature answers to no one, but if she’s wise she’ll let the Hawkeyes and Cowboys have this moment in the sun.