Leistikow: Dissecting what Iowa AD Gary Barta had to say about 'Alliance,' Cy-Hawk future
IOWA CITY, Ia. — We now interrupt your regularly scheduled Iowa vs. Indiana game-week coverage for a little talk about the “Alliance.”
We do so because Gary Barta, the Iowa athletics director who is also head of the College Football Playoff committee, spoke to assembled media Tuesday for the first time in a long time.
And in case you missed it, there’s been a lot to discuss lately surrounding the future of college football, the future of the Big Ten Conference, the future of the Big 12 Conference and … as a result … the future of the annual Cy-Hawk matchup.
As Barta said in the outset of Tuesday’s questions, these conversations were triggered by the shocking late-July revelations that Oklahoma and Texas were bolting the Big 12 for the SEC. Per Barta, Big Ten leaders — presidents and athletic directors — then got together and decided the conference was already in a good position.
The Big Ten feels good about its TV rights deal with ESPN and FOX (which expires in 2023), that it has highly acclaimed academic/research institutions (true) and that it can boast representation in nine contiguous states (from Nebraska to New Jersey). Eventually it found partners in an “Alliance” — with the likeminded Pac-12 and ACC — that notably didn’t include the Big 12.
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What does the Alliance mean? And what about the Cy-Hawk game? Considering Barta was one of only three Big Ten athletics directors (as reported by The Athletic) who is part of the scheduling discussions going forward, his quotes on the matter are important. Let’s look closer at some of what he said Tuesday.
"We didn't identify somebody that we were ready to go forward with."
On the idea of expansion, that was a clear blow to the notion that the Big Ten was seriously considering adding any of the remaining eight Big 12 teams (or anyone else) as a response to the SEC. No, this doesn’t completely rule out an addition of Iowa State and/or Kansas — members of the distinguished American Association of Universities (AAU) — as part of a future Big Ten.
But it's a reflection that the Big 12 is reeling while the Big Ten is in no rush to make any decisions.
"We will honor current contracts."
Barta affirmed that includes the next five Iowa-Iowa State games, the last of which is on the books for Sept. 6, 2025, in Ames. Those are happening.
After that, Barta notably said, "I can't predict the future."
“(The) Cy-Hawk matchup is good for our state, good for college football.”
One of the central ideas of a Big Ten/ACC/Pac-12 alliance is that each Big Ten team (for example) would play eight traditional conference games plus one against the ACC and one against the Pac-12 for a total of 10 Power Five opponents, with the idea of creating more TV-friendly matchups. Then, a 12-game regular-season schedule would be rounded out with two home games against non-Power Five foes. (For Iowa, that means Kent State and Colorado State this year, South Dakota State and Nevada next year, and so forth.)
However, as Barta pointed out, that doesn’t mean teams within the Alliance would exclusively play each other. Keep in mind, there is an imbalance in current conference membership (12 in the Pac-12, 14 in the Big Ten, 15 in the ACC). So the math alone dictates there would be wiggle room for schools within the Alliance to schedule games against teams from the Big 12 or SEC.
For example, the ACC’s Clemson would probably do everything in its power to continue playing in-state rival South Carolina (of the SEC), and vice versa. Those types of matchups are what make college football so unique. It's what Iowa vs. Iowa State is like in our state.
Still, the fate of the Cy-Hawk matchup probably comes down to something Barta indicated in this next quote.
“We have to wait and see what happens to the Big 12 and to all of college sports.”
There’s the real meat of the discussion here, in my opinion. Where does the Big 12 go from here? It might be a while before we find out. Oklahoma and Texas are still bound to the Big 12 through the 2024 football season without each paying an enormous exit fee. While Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was caught flat-footed by the SEC moves of his two most lucrative institutions, he’s a sharp leader with time to explore all viable and creative options for the league's future.
The key, whatever it takes, is for the Big 12 to remain a "power" conference — one that would warrant an automatic bid into the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff of the future.
There’s a very good chance that the Big 12 has enough brand power to attract interesting new blood — maybe BYU, maybe Boise State, maybe Houston, maybe Central Florida … to form a pretty fun and intriguing league, one that would be attractive for TV partners.
(Sidebar: It would be pretty cool if the Big 12 actually had 12 teams again.)
But if the future Big 12's stature is more on par with the current American Athletic Conference? Then you'd have to consider another thing Barta said Tuesday.
“We need to have seven home games.”
That’s non-negotiable. Iowa averages about $3.4 million in ticket revenue alone for each home football game, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking and concessions (which will grow with the launch of stadium-wide alcohol sales). So, the Hawkeyes aren’t going to agree to a schedule of 10 Alliance games (five home, five away) PLUS an every-other-year trip to Ames.
The only way an annual Iowa-Iowa State game would work in that scenario is if Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard agreed to play in Iowa City every year. Pollard would never agree to gifting his already-wealthier in-state rival a guaranteed annual sellout at Kinnick Stadium with no return visits, nor should he.
Again, I don’t think we get to that point, but Barta did draw a line in the sand that if the Alliance holds and Iowa State is not playing in a power conference … Hawkeye road trips to Ames aren't happening.
One last quote to chew on from Barta …
“Having the opportunity to play some other games, I think it's intriguing.”
Critics of the annual Iowa-Iowa State game take aim at the lack of scheduling variety. With Iowa playing nine Big Ten games plus Iowa State every year, there's no extra room for a Power Five opponent (again, getting back to that seven home games principle). In the Alliance, in theory, Iowa might play Wake Forest one year (meh) but maybe gets Notre Dame (whoa) the next. Or maybe an Oregon State one year (meh) but Oregon (cool) the next.
If Iowa State retains power-program status in the future Big 12, there are a lot of interesting possibilities. For example, what if the schools played twice every three years? Try this on for size:
- Year 1: Iowa hosts Iowa State, plays an ACC team on the road.
- Year 2: Iowa visits Iowa State, plays a Pac-12 team at home.
- Year 3: Iowa hosts an ACC team, plays a Pac-12 team on the road.
Then repeat. That'd include scheduling variety, keep the Cy-Hawk rivalry bubbling with regularity and still be aligned with already-suggested Alliance principles.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.