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May 15, 2013

Schedules and bowls changing

These days the news cycle of college athletics never stops.

Gone are the days of the season ending and the news slowing to a trickle. In the past few years, most of the off season news has centered on the great realignment debate. The exodus of schools to new conferences appears to have come to a close for the time being, but that doesn't mean the flow of interesting news items has stopped.

From an Iowa perspective the news is centered on schedules and bowl games and it includes Hawkeye football and basketball.

We recently wrote about how Fran McCaffery was delivering on a promise of a beefed up non-conference schedule and that's clearly happening. Iowa has moved from playing against a good field in the Great Alaskan Shootout in November to facing a great field in the Battle for Atlantis during Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday that field got even a bit more challenging as the top team in the tournament, Kansas, added the #1 recruit in the country for 2013, Andrew Wiggins. He chose the Jayhawks over Florida State, North Carolina, and Kentucky and will have an instant impact on their lineup.

Iowa isn't guaranteed to face Kansas in the Bahamas. That will depend on how the field is seeded. The Jayhawks are the clear top team in the field and seeds 2-4 will be made up of Iowa, Villanova, and Tennessee based on the returning roster. My best guess is that Iowa will be the #2 or #3 seed in the event.

The lineup for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was announced last week and the Hawkeyes will host Notre Dame on December 3rd. The Fighting Irish should be close to a Top 25 squad with one of the top returning backcourts in the country.

Earlier this week, Fran McCaffery told the Cedar Rapids Gazette at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago that he is still pursuing a potential made for TV matchup against another high level program, possibly on the road, in the non-conference slate. Add that in with a trip to Ames to face Iowa State and the Hawkeyes RPI outside of conference play will not be an issue. Frankly, while adding the TV game might be good for marketing, it's probably not even necessary at this point, unless it comes with an agreement for a return home game the following year.

Yesterday the Big Ten released the list of conference foes that Iowa will play once in the 2013-14 season and as expected, the Hawkeyes will be challenged there as well. Last year Iowa faced the weakest conference schedule, playing NCAA Tournament teams Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois only once. This year, they will face each of those schools twice. Iowa's one play conference opponents this year are: at Indiana and Penn State, who should be much improved with the return of All Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier. The Hawkeyes will host Purdue and Nebraska.

On paper, this might be the toughest Iowa basketball schedule I can remember in many years. I'd probably have to go back to the 2001-02 season when Iowa played in the Guardian's Classic against Memphis and Missouri and had a neutral site game in Chicago against Duke or the 2004-05 season when the Hawkeyes played in the EA Sports Maui Invitational and faced Louisville, Texas, and North Carolina.

Bottom line, there will be no worries when it comes to the RPI in March for next year's Iowa team, but given the tougher schedule it is certainly possible that the Hawkeyes could be a better team and finish with a worse overall record than this past year in the regular season.

On the football side of the equation, we are now headed into the era of the 9 game conference schedule and based on the information coming out of the Big Ten meetings this week in Chicago, the Big Ten will be affiliated at some level with nearly every bowl game on the schedule.

The nine game conference schedules will begin with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten in 2014. Basically, one year you will get five home games and four on the road. The follow year, four home games and five on the road.

Like every other Big Ten coach, Kirk Ferentz said this week, he will love the nine game schedule in years when he has five home games and hate it when he only has four.

The elephant in the room for Iowa fans (and Iowa State fans) is how will this impact the Cy-Hawk game and also the rest of the Hawkeye non-conference schedule? Basically, Iowa has asked the Big Ten to give the Hawkeyes five home conference games in years when they are scheduled to travel to Ames to face the Cyclones.

Let's face it, college athletics is about money or in the case of college football…revenue. College football floats the boat, so to speak. You don't have to be a math wizard to figure out that seven home football games make a lot of money in the fall and that revenue is counted on in the athletic department budget, so going back to six home games isn't going to be an option at Iowa or anywhere else at the BCS Conference level.

Iowa and Iowa State are contractually obligated to continue their series until 2020 and I expect that to continue as planned. Unless the NCAA allows a 13th regular season game to be added in the coming years, I do wonder if Iowa might look to modify the series moving forward. Perhaps Iowa and Iowa State should only face each other in a home and home series four or six times every ten years?

Let's face it, as things are currently set up, Iowa (and probably most of the Big Ten) will host MAC or Sun Belt or C-USA type schools in the non-conference schedule. That's just the reality. Now, the MAC has produced some solid football over the years, including Northern Illinois trip to the BCS last year, but it hardly gets fans excited about spending money on season tickets.

What is also in flux in the Big Ten is the slate of bowl games. That is perhaps the biggest story coming out of this week's Big Ten meetings in Chicago. With the conference growing to 14 schools starting in 2014, the menu of bowl games is expanding.

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg has a rundown on his Big Ten blog and by my count, the Big Ten could be involved at some level with up to as many as 16 different bowl games. What appears to be happening is that instead of yearly tie-in's with a specific bowl game, they are opting for tie-in's on a rotating basis.

One of the big complaints you hear from Big Ten fans from time to time is bowl fatigue and going to the same venues year after year. While no group of fans would ever complain about traveling to Pasadena every year, perhaps going to Tampa, Orlando, or Phoenix year after year can create some fatigue.

The Big Ten has already set up an arrangement with the Orange Bowl to send a team there at least three times in a 12 year span. They will keep their arrangement with the Capital One and Outback Bowls. Scott Dochterman from the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday that the Big Ten will replace the Big 12 in playing in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego against a Pac 12 opponent.

The Big Ten will also keep their arrangement with the Gator Bowl, but it will become a rotation with the Music City Bowl, held in Nashville. The six year deal will place a Big Ten team in Jacksonville three times and at the Music City Bowl three times. Both games will feature an SEC opponent.

The Pinstripe Bowl, held at Yankee Stadium, will also be in the Big Ten menu on a yearly basis against an opponent from the ACC. The Big Ten is also expected to continue their relationship with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. There are also some rumors suggesting that the Big Ten could become involved with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl held annually in San Francisco.

Those bowls are in addition to the new College Football Playoff format, which is set to begin in 2014 and will include the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton, and Chick-fil-A Bowls.

If you thought bowl speculation was confusing in the past, wait until we get to the 2014 college football season because it's going to be crazy.


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