Gary Barta says no fans will be allowed at Hawkeye sporting events for foreseeable future

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa wants to make its own decision about how many fans to allow at winter sports events, but the Big Ten Conference is continuing with its policy of banning anyone other than athletes' family members to attend.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday that Carver-Hawkeye Arena will continue to be nearly empty “in the near future,” even as men’s and women’s basketball games get underway. That follows the Big Ten protocol for the football season that is winding down, in which Kinnick Stadium was off-limits to paying customers, with about 1,500 relatives of players and coaches scattered among 69,250 seats.

The Big Ten is reviewing its position on fans weekly, Barta said. But he didn’t sound optimistic that a reversal would occur even in time for the beginning of wrestling season in January.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday that the Big Ten Conference ban on fans at sporting events will continue into the winter season. His preference is to allow limited attendance, and discussions on the topic occur weekly.

Iowa State, for example, is allowing limited attendance at its football and basketball games this weekend. But that is because the Big 12 Conference is allowing individual schools to work out arrangements with local health officials.

That is Barta’s preference as well, but his hands are tied on the matter.

“I don’t see any end in sight in the near future,” Barta said at the monthly meeting of the Presidential Committee on Athletics.

On other topics, Barta said:

Schedule of season-ending football games undecided

Big Ten athletic directors still have not worked out a schedule for season-ending football games to be played Dec. 18-19, the so-called “champions week.” Barta said they’re still discussing holding games between teams in the East and West divisions at neutral sites and need to make some announcement in the next week.

The idea is to have the first-place teams in each division play for a conference title in Indianapolis, as usual, and then to have the second-place teams face off, the third-place teams do the same, etc. Barta said because the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted some schools’ eight-game schedules more than others, those matchups may be altered slightly.

Hawkeyes may play in a bowl game

It is possible the Hawkeyes, who are 4-2 entering Saturday’s game at Illinois, may play in a bowl game over the holidays.

Some bowls with Big Ten ties have already canceled, including the Red Box in California, Pinstripe in New York and the Quick Lane in Michigan. Barta said there have been conversations with officials at other bowl games all season, and the goal is to reduce the amount of time teams would spend in host cities while still making it a special experience for the players.

Finances are also a concern, since it’s unlikely the bowls would allow many, if any, fans. That means the revenue would come solely from TV contracts.

Status of minimum-game rule for championship eligibility unknown

Barta said he has not been involved in any Big Ten meetings about whether to scrap its six-game minimum rule for teams to compete in the Dec. 19 football championship.

That was the original plan, intended to ensure that a team couldn’t qualify while playing half of its eight-game schedule. But, with Wisconsin at 2-1 entering the weekend and undefeated Ohio State facing the possibility of playing only five games, there has been renewed focus on whether that is best for the conference if it hopes to get the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff.

“In the pandemic, you certainly have to be open to what’s the right thing to do,” Barta said, without indicating whether he’d support removing the minimum-game requirement.

Ranking teams remains a challenge

Barta is chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, which has met twice and has the Buckeyes at No. 4, even with only four games played out of six scheduled.

Barta said evaluating teams that have played only half as many games as others remains the biggest challenge in the rankings this year.

The Hawkeyes are 19th. Barta reiterated that he’s not allowed to lobby for his own school, however. He must leave the room whenever the discussion turns to Iowa.

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