Gary Barta: 'The Holiday Bowl looks great, but it's not a done deal'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Gary Barta hears you loud and clear, Iowa football fans.

He knows many of you are clamoring for a bowl trip to San Diego this month.

Iowa’s athletic director is on your side. But it’s not up to him.

“The Holiday Bowl looks great, but that’s not a done deal. So we have to wait and see,” Barta said Thursday of the Dec. 27 game in Southern California that would be against a Pac-12 opponent.

The Hawkeyes have completed a 9-3 regular season and now await the Sunday announcement of where their final game will be contested. Other options are the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference or the Redbox Bowl in Northern California against a Pac-12 team.

Iowa has not been to the Holiday Bowl since 1991. Barta has been there three times while a member of the athletic department at Washington.

“I definitely see it as a positive,” Barta said of the lure of a team going to the Holiday Bowl for the first time in 28 years. “Every year, there seems to be a fan favorite. This year, I think people are gravitating toward San Diego.”

Holiday Bowl representatives attended Iowa’s home finale against Illinois two weeks ago.

“They were very impressed with our fans, with our team, with (coach) Kirk (Ferentz),” Barta said.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta walks on the field before a NCAA non conference football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Barta will spend part of the next 48 hours on the phone with officials from all three bowl games as well as the Big Ten Conference. He wants to make it clear that the Hawkeyes’ priority is to get to the most prestigious bowl game possible, which would be the Citrus. The Holiday is next in the Big Ten pecking order, and the Redbox third.

“The Big Ten knows we would love to go as high as we possibly could go,” Barta said. “But at the end of the day, wherever we get selected, we’re going to have a great experience for our student-athletes and coaches.”

Complicating matters for Iowa is that seven Big Ten teams have nine or more wins, making it more competitive than usual for the top bowls. The Hawkeyes’ losses were to three of those schools — Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Iowa has a chance to attain a 10-win season for just the ninth time in the program's history.

“When you looked at our schedule, I would see that as success. But you also, as a competitor, once you get there, you say, 'What a great season' — because we’ll have beaten a Pac-12 or SEC team to get there. And then you’ll nitpick. 'Oh, if we could have just done this against Wisconsin. if we’d just done this against Michigan,’ ” Barta said. “But it would be phenomenal, a great season and something our student-athletes would have for the rest of their life.”

Barta’s attention will be divided over the weekend. He is flying to Dallas on Friday for his final duties as a member of the college football playoff committee.

The group of 13 will watch all five major-conference title games together, have meetings throughout Friday and Saturday, and then determine Sunday morning who the four finalists will be.

It’s a decision that will make some fan bases ecstatic and enrage others. Barta joked that he’s ready for the backlash.

“I’ve been doing that for 14 years, some would argue, at Iowa,” he said.

“I don’t say that dismissively, but I’m used to making decisions in pressure. I love college athletics. I love college football. I’m with some really terrific people who care about the sport and want to get it right.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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