Leistikow: Recruiting, TV at center of Iowa's Friday-night spring game

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Why a Friday-night spring game at Kinnick Stadium?

A better question might be: Why not?

The 15th of 15 spring practices for the Iowa football team will take place for the first time under the lights, at 7 p.m. Friday; and it makes so much sense that it might become an annual occurrence.

Assistant coach Kelvin Bell summed up the rationale by saying this: “It’s what’s best for the program.”

That's a strong starting point.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz will preside over a Friday-night spring game for the first time. Gates open at 6 p.m.

There are two primary reasons the Hawkeyes are going to play a game — and yes, it’ll have a “game” feel, albeit with funky scoring rules — on Friday night.

One, the Big Ten Network.

The idea of a Friday-night spring game was hatched last summer from the football offices. Staff members were discussing why its spring-ending showcase wasn’t being aired on the conference’s TV network like other teams’ games were.

“We weren’t getting ours,” Bell said. “We were trying to figure out, how could we get it on there? One thing (the network) had mentioned would be a Friday-night setting instead of a Saturday afternoon.”

So, yes, this year’s game will air on BTN — slightly tape-delayed, at 8:30 p.m, following the conclusion of Wisconsin's spring game. If you can't wait, BTN2GO will carry the game live.

A two-hour Iowa football broadcast means exposure. BTN reaches more than 60 million homes nationwide.

As a side benefit to this year's arrangement, while the network’s arsenal is in town, it’ll air Iowa’s Saturday baseball game against Rutgers and tape-delayed coverage of Saturday’s Musco Twilight track meet in Iowa City.

That's a win-win-win for Iowa.

The second, and most important reason, for this game to occur on a Friday night?


Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley throws down field during practice on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.


Again, "what’s best for the program" is code for what’s best for getting the best possible players into the program. And that’s why I reached out to Bell for this column; he’s the recruiting coordinator.

This is a pretty big recruiting weekend for the Hawkeyes, and a night-game atmosphere at Kinnick doesn't hurt. In addition to uncommitted high-school prospects, there are 19 signed Hawkeyes (including walk-ons) that will be at the game, including out-of-staters like Ihmir Smith-Marsette of New Jersey and Kyshaun Bryan and Josh Turner of Florida.

Bell also stressed the importance of the live evaluation period for recruits that began Saturday. By playing the spring game on Friday, the always-on-the-move assistant coaches can get recharged from the spring grind and, by Monday morning, hit the recruiting trail running.

Bell recalled last year’s spring game ending between 3:30 and 4 p.m. on a Saturday.

“I had a 6:30 flight the next morning to Cincinnati,” he said.

RELATED:Look at packages, not players, in spring game

In the past two years especially, the spring has been a fruitful time for landing future Hawkeyes. That could become even more prevalent in coming years, with the NCAA last week approving official visits can take place in April in June before a prospect’s senior year of high school.

That might make future Iowa spring games a prominent recruiting expedition.

“It’s going to become a totally different animal; not only this year, but in years to come," Bell said, “to get prospects on campus for a game-like atmosphere in the spring. It’s awesome."

From the university’s perspective, Fridays could be a good thing, too. Their research has found that families with children actually have fewer conflicts on a Friday night vs. on a Saturday afternoon — when there are typically youth games our tournaments in soccer, softball and baseball.

That’s also one of the reasons that, a year ago, Iowa moved the annual Valley Stadium practice in West Des Moines a Friday-night venture.


“One of the things we found is Friday is less hectic,” associate athletics director Matt Henderson said. “We realize it’s a little bit inconvenient for some fans that want to travel.”

Fans who attend won't be arriving to an hour of calisthenics; the team will quickly transition into game mode. Officially, the four-quarter game is scheduled to start at 7:06 p.m.

There’s plenty of excitement and intrigue for the plugged-in fan. What will the Brian Ferentz offense look like in the final organized team practice until August?

Parking is free. Admission is free. And while the football game is open, there will be a Big Ten baseball game just a short walk away — Iowa vs. Rutgers begins at 6 p.m.

“Those that want to go for baseball for the first part (can) come over and watch a quarter or two of the practice,” Henderson said, “then head back over to baseball.”

I’m interested in a lot about this year’s spring game. The quarterback battle between Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers is at the front of the list.

But as for the players themselves?

You can bet they’ll be ready to roll and to put on a show. This will be only the third time this spring the Hawkeyes go “live” — that means full-contact.

Forget BTN. Forget recruiting advantages.

Friday night also is about why football players do what they do.

“I think there’s more anticipation for our guys. They’re excited to hit one another in a live setting, more so than when they (normally) practice,” Bell said. “Because these guys will wake up at 6 in the morning to practice live. And it’ll be juiced. Whether in front of a crowd or at night time, live practices are as good as it gets.”

Bell added one more thing.

“If it’s well-received and our fans like it — it works well for us as far as our recruiting calendar — it’s a no-brainer to continue,” he said. “But this is the test-pilot for us. And we’re anxious to see how it works.”


Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.


What, when, where: Offense vs. Defense, 7:06 p.m. Friday, Kinnick Stadium

Television: Live on BTN2GO; tape-delayed at 8:30 p.m., BTN (Announcers: John Campbell, Chuck Long, Danan Hughes)

Admission, parking: Free (Lots open at 5 p.m.; gates open at 6 p.m.); only the West stands will be open.

Forecast: Temperatures in the 50s; 0 percent chance of rain.

Scoring system: Offense – Touchdown (6 points), Explosive Play* (3 points), First Down (1 point), PAT (1 point), Field Goal (3 points); Defense – Touchdown (7 points), Non-TD takeaway (4 points), 3-and-out (2 points), Sack (3 points), Sudden Change* (4 points), PAT block (1 point).

*Explosive Play = Rush of 12-plus yards/Pass of 16-plus yards

*Sudden Change = If offense starts a series on the defense's 35-yard line or better and holds them to a field goal or less.


The life of Wayne Duke, a 1950 Iowa graduate and Burlington native who would become the commissioner of the Big Eight (1963-71) and Big Ten (1971-88) conferences, will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday in Crystal Lake, Ill., at the First Congregational Church (461 Pierson Street). Duke passed away on March 29 at the age of 88.

Attendees are invited to wear their school colors to the service.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Wayne Duke Postgraduate Award, a scholarship that recognizes and rewards exceptional achievements in academics, athletics and civic service. 

Where to send check donations: Central Indiana Community Foundation, 615 N. Alabama Street, Suite 119, Indianapolis, IN 46204, and write "Wayne Duke Scholarship" in the memo line. 

Online donations: Click here and enter "Wayne Duke" in the box that says "List Fund Name or ID."