Hy-Vee Classic to end after 2018, as Iowa announces it's pulling out
The Hy-Vee Classic will be no more.
The mid-December college basketball event, which featured Iowa’s four Division I schools, will end after this season, Iowa announced Thursday. The event first started in 2012.
The Hawkeyes cited an increase of Big Ten games among the reasons it was pulling out after the upcoming season. The final Hy-Vee Classic is scheduled for Dec. 15 at Wells Fargo Arena. Iowa will face UNI, while Iowa State will battle Drake.
“In our last agreement, we added language that provided each institution an opportunity to opt out of the remainder of the contract if they reached 22 required games by the conference,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a release. “The addition of two conference games is good for our fans, the Big Ten Conference and our strength of schedule, but unfortunately it created some scheduling challenges that impacts this event.”
The 2018-19 season will mark the Big Ten’s first with 20 conference games. The Big Ten is also paired up with the Big East for the Gavitt Tipoff Games — which was introduced in 2015 — and the ACC for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Cy-Hawk series between Iowa and Iowa State is also under contract.
The Hy-Vee Classic was created as an alternative after Iowa and Iowa State ended their annually alternating home-and-homes with Drake and UNI. But the event, which was held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, never really gained the anticipated traction.
For decades, the unique setup of mid-majors hosting Power Five schools created buzz throughout the state. In even-numbered years, Iowa visited Drake and Iowa State traveled to UNI. In odd-numbered years, the Hawkeyes headed to Cedar Falls and Drake hosted the Cyclones. Iowa’s basketball fans yearned for those matchups.
That vibe never translated to the Hy-Vee Classic once Iowa and Iowa State opted to discontinue the home-and-homes.
Attendance in 2017 for Iowa’s win over Drake and Iowa State’s victory over Northern Iowa was 13,828 — it was the first time attendance had dipped below 15,000 since 14,512 filed into Wells Fargo Arena in 2013. The inaugural event’s attendance in 2012 was 13,180. Wells Fargo Arena’s official capacity sits at 16,110.
"This was not a surprise," Iowa Events Center general manager Chris Connolly told the Register. "We knew it was a possibility. We’re disappointed. We did not want to see it end; we’re sorry to see it go. For the last handful of years, it’s been a sellout or close to capacity."
Returning to the old home-and-home model seems highly unlikely, meaning future matchups between Iowa's Power Five and mid-major schools remain to be seen.
In its release, Iowa said "UNI and Drake are not currently included on future Iowa men’s basketball schedules."
Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard said in a statement that although the Cyclones "would certainly welcome continuing to play games against UNI or Drake in the future, our ability to do that will most likely depend on each of their institution’s willingness to play games in Hilton Coliseum."
"We have certainly enjoyed being part of the Big Four event in Des Moines," Pollard continued, "and although we are disappointed that the event will no longer take place after this year, we understand and share many of the same basketball scheduling challenges that the University of Iowa is experiencing."
With no guarantee that Iowa and Iowa State will face Drake and UNI in the coming years, both mid-major athletics directors expressed disappointment in seeing the event come to an end.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Big Four Classic is ending following this year’s event,” UNI athletics director David Harris said in a release. "This event has provided a tremendous opportunity for the fans of basketball in the state of Iowa to see all four teams compete in one building on the same day. The Big Four Classic was played in a great venue in a centralized area of the state to help generate a fantastic basketball experience in Iowa.
“We certainly appreciate the hard work put in by staff members of the four schools and Wells Fargo Arena staff that allowed the event to draw so much interest. Non-conference scheduling has been very challenging for us based on the success that we have enjoyed in recent years. Our focus moving forward will be on exploring other options in order to continue to have an attractive and competitive non-conference schedule for our program and our fans.”
Drake athletics director Brian Hardin detailed his thoughts in a series of tweets.
“What has made our state unique on the college basketball landscape was the willingness and cooperation between the state’s four Division I universities to play each other on a regular basis, either by rotating home courts or at a neutral site in our Capital City,” Hardin tweeted.
“I understand the position that Iowa and Iowa State believe they are in. However, it is a sad day for passionate basketball fans of all four programs who have enjoyed nearly a century of history and rivalries between these four schools that were played in various great venues in our state. I look forward to working with my colleagues at Iowa, Iowa State and UNI on determining an appropriate next chapter for our Big Four games.”
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for The Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.