Brown: Gary Barta campaigning for night game in 2015
IOWA CITY, Ia. – If he knows the answer, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is keeping it under wraps. But odds are good that Hawkeye football will be back in the night-game business this fall for the first time since 2012.
"We're working hard to try and convince the networks that we haven't had one for a couple of years," Barta said. "We'd love to have one. And we'll see where it goes."
By the end of this month, early May at the latest, we'll find out if the Hawkeyes play under the lights after a two-year absence from prime time. Barta said early-season and late-season games are all in the mix.
"I love night games," Barta said. "The feel, the environment, the atmosphere. Winning games is obviously No. 1. That creates excitement. We want game day to be fun. And the night game adds to that."
Iowa has played 10 night games at Kinnick Stadium. That included a streak of four straight years that ended in 2013, when the Hawkeyes were coming off a 4-8 season. Iowa improved to 8-5 in 2013, but that wasn't good enough to return to prime time.
"I guess we've got to win nine," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last April.
Iowa didn't meet expectation with a 7-6 season in 2014. But Barta has used that two-year absence as a bargaining chip with the networks. And he thinks night games would be a nice break for fans from a steady diet of 11 a.m. kickoffs that create plenty of pre-dawn alarm clocks.
"If you think about our fan base, they come from all over the state and across the country," Barta said. "On a nice day, they'd have all day to enjoy tailgating and then move into the stadium under the lights. It creates a different environment that's a lot of fun."
Ferentz has said he loves night games at home but doesn't like them on the road because that makes for a long day with travel factored in. Iowa center Austin Blythe would just as soon skip night games.
"It's good for the fans," Blythe said. "It's a good environment to play in. It definitely gets you jacked up and ready to go. But sitting around all day isn't exactly what I would like to do."
It's no secret that drumming up fan support is an issue heading into the 2015 season. Barta acknowledged angst in the fan base when season ticket renewal forms went out in the mail in February.
"I fully understand why there's unrest," he said, in reference to the 2014 season. "None of us is happy with the way things turned out."
Barta said it won't be until May before he gets a true read on how season-ticket sales are going. But he sees the trend in 2015 similar to 2013, when 38,637 season tickets were sold to the general public. He said you can't use 2014 as a comparison because the athletic department reseated Kinnick.
"I've gotten both responses," Barta said. "I've had people say, 'You know what, I'm not going to renew.' And I've had people say, 'When the deadline ends can I look to improve my seat if someone doesn't renew?' "
The athletic department hopes that a night game — or two — would energize ticket sales. Prime-time appearances don't hurt recruiting, either. That's a win-win with the lights on.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.