What if I told you Hawkeye-to-the-marrow Ed Podolak was today more of an Iowa State football fan than a Big Ten supporter?
OK, that might be an exaggeration. But it’s not a B1G one. Podolak, who has done radio color commentary on Iowa football radio broadcasts since 1982 and played for the Hawkeyes from 1965 to 1968, is speaking more fondly of the rival Cyclones these days than his beloved Big Ten.
Iowa State was supposed to play at Iowa Saturday, but because of COVID-19 and the Big Ten postponing its football season, things changed. The Cyclones will play Louisiana in Ames. Podolak, who would have been wearing a shirt with a TigerHawk on it and shunning all things cardinal-colored, likely will catch ISU’s game on ESPN.
“They’re playing and we’re not,” Podolak said Tuesday. “It’s really hard to explain that.
“I’ll watch Iowa State football. There’s a lot of Iowa kids on that team and a lot of good Iowa people who are graduates and support them. I think (Matt) Campbell is a terrific coach and I’m all-in for them because they get to play.”
As for the Big Ten, the compliments don’t flow as freely these days from someone who has probably spent more time in Champaign or West Lafayette than the governors of Illinois or Indiana.
“I’m coming from lack of leadership,” said Podolak. “(Commissioner) Bob Bowlsby has shown what real leadership looks like in keeping the Big 12 together. I just think that we didn’t have the leadership at the top in the Big Ten that we needed to attack this.
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“And now they’re trying to find a way to dance out of it, and that is very difficult, also.”
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren has taken plenty of heat from plenty of heat sources since the conference shelved fall sports for 2020. The Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted 11-3 to do that, with Iowa one of the three in opposition.
“There’s no question the Big Ten probably thought they would get all the other conferences to go along with them when they made the decision,” Podolak said. “Now I’d say it looks very incompetent the way they handled it.
“I really think if the ex-Big Ten commissioner (Jim Delany) had not retired and had been involved, we would be in a different situation.
“The Big Ten isn’t the Big Ten anymore, it’s the Big 14. Some of the schools that have joined — Nebraska not being one of them, but the East Coast schools — are certainly in a different environment than the rest of the Big Ten, which is mostly small college-town atmospheres.”
The season starts this week for the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, and the following week for the Southeastern Conference. Watching teams from those leagues play will only compound the sorrow and bitterness in Big Ten country. Which, in Iowa’s case, also happens to be Big 12 country.
“Ohio State can’t play, but Cincinnati can,” Podolak said. “Iowa can’t play, but Iowa State can. You get these divisions in the same state, and then we’re playing high school football. To me it was just lack of leadership at the top of the Big Ten. I don’t think I’m the only person who feels that way.”
Podolak’s frustration, he says, is for the participants much more than everyone else.
“I identify more with the players than the fans,” he said. “I love tailgating and all that stuff on Saturdays, but very few people have been in that locker room and know what kind of dedication those people have and how it’s helped them get toward a better life in a lot of situations.
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“I know how hard you train in the offseason. I know they have been in camp and following a protocol for a number of weeks. Then to have the rug pulled out from in front of you …”
For so many across Iowa, the voices of Podolak and broadcast partner Gary Dolphin is the soundtrack of autumn. Chalk up another gaping hole in 2020. What will Podolak do with his fall Saturdays?
“I haven’t really looked that far ahead,” he said. “You know, it’s just going to be empty.”
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