Iowa football takeaways: On alcohol sales at Kinnick, Ferentz in Year 20, Fant's future

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

CHICAGO, Ill. — Iowa athletic director Gary Barta reiterated Tuesday that the school has no immediate plans to sell alcohol to the general public at Kinnick Stadium. But he seemed to open the door to future consideration of doing so in light of what is happening at other universities, most recently Oklahoma State.

“It’s something that obviously I watch. It’s something that maybe 10 years ago would have been considered off the table completely,” Barta told reporters at Big Ten football media days here.

Oklahoma State announced this month it would start selling alcohol at T. Boone Pickens Stadium. There will be about 40 Division I schools that do so when the football season kicks off next month.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Monday that there are no immediate plans to allow alcohol sales to the general public at Kinnick Stadium. But as more schools do so, Barta said Iowa may follow suit at some point.

If alcohol sales become a fan expectation, Iowa may follow suit.

“The environment in and around Kinnick Stadium related to the use of alcohol is better today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. We have less arrests. We have less issues in the stadium. We’re kicking fewer people out. That’s a starting point. That’s awesome,” Barta said. “What happens going forward, if the country continues to see schools adding the sale of alcohol, we won’t be the first. We probably won’t be the last to do it.”

Another 10 years for Ferentz? Barta would like to see it

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 20th season at the helm of the Iowa football program, the longest-tenured Division I coach.

Barta, who has extended Ferentz’s contract twice, said he remains a big believer in his coach.

“He’s proven that he knows how to win, and you have to win at this level. But beyond that, just great humility, great integrity, incredible passion, work ethic. He’s the perfect fit,” Barta said.

Ferentz has 143 victories at Iowa, tied with Hayden Fry for the most in program history. Fry also coached 20 years in Iowa City.

“Heading into his 20th year, I hope someday we’re talking about his 25th or his 30th year,” Barta said of the 62-year-old Ferentz. “Right now, for 2018, I’ve never seen him more focused, more energized and ready to go.”

Will Fant be around for media days next year? Ferentz hopes so

Ferentz saw two talented players leave a year early for the NFL Draft this spring, and seemed to be bracing for another after this season.

“We consider him to be one of our best,” Ferentz said Tuesday when asked about junior tight end Noah Fant, who was named to the Big Ten's preseason honors list Monday. “Hopefully, he’ll be here next year at this time with us.”

That doesn’t seem likely, as Fant is already being touted as a potential first-round pick by some prognosticators.

Still, Ferentz will get at least one more season with the 6-foot-5 Fant, who led all tight ends in FBS last season with 11 touchdown catches. And he is excited about the prospect. He said Fant had a strong spring.

“The work he did blocking; his attitude is great. Certainly he's more comfortable and more adept at what he's doing now because he's got some experience behind him,” Ferentz said.

“If we're going to have a good season this year, we certainly need players like Noah to have a tremendous year. And I can't think of a reason why he won't, other than he's going to attract attention for sure.”

From opposing teams. And NFL scouts.

Ferentz on early entries to NFL Draft: ‘Both of our players had good choices to make’

Ferentz noted that players are increasingly choosing to enter the NFL Draft after three years in college. The Hawkeyes lost center James Daniels and cornerback Josh Jackson this year. In previous years, athletes like Brandon Scherff and Desmond King have decided to return for their senior seasons.

Ferentz said each of those decisions was made after a great deal of thought, which is the ideal.

“Unfortunately, there are guys that enter that shouldn't enter. Both of our players had good choices to make,” Ferentz said. “That's a decision an individual has to make, in my opinion, unless they're getting ready to make a bad decision. We haven't had that case.”

Jackson and Daniels were each selected in the second round of this year’s draft.

Replacing Daniels will be one tall order for Hawkeyes

Ferentz, who has been an offensive line coach at the NFL and college level, said Daniels is one of the three most athletically gifted centers he’s ever been around (former Hawkeye Joel Hilgenberg and Wally Williams of the NFL’s Ravens and Browns being the others). So that means Daniels’ successor at center has perhaps an impossibly high standard to live up to.

Senior Keegan Render enters fall camp as the leading contender to be snapping the football to quarterback Nate Stanley this season. And Ferentz thinks the center position is in good hands.

“Keegan has played really good football for us very quietly the last couple years,” Ferentz said of Render, who has primarily played guard. “When he moved over full time this spring, he has played that position in the past, cross-trained. He looked totally natural there.

“What we won't have is a guy of James Daniels' athleticism. Probably have to go to the NFL to find that. Kind of rare. We've found in Keegan not only a good football player but also a guy respected in the program, very quiet leader, but very strong leader, and that's important, I think, at that position.”

Whether Render stays at center or moves back to guard, it’s clear he will be the leader of the offensive line this year.

Barta says Kinnick capacity could go back over 70,000 if need be

Iowa announced Monday that Kinnick will hold 69,250 fans this season while the north end zone undergoes renovations intended to add more leg room for patrons as well as luxury suites. It was known all along that capacity would fall below the 70,000 threshold, but Barta said more seats could be added in the distant future if need be.

Architects told Barta that more seats could be created in the corners of the south end zone.

“That’s not probably going to be in my tenure, but it is something that’s available if we need it,” Barta said.

“There was some sense of wanting to stay at (70,000), just because it’s a nice round number. It was more important that the fan experience was improved. We’ll still be able to remain in the top 25 in attendance in the country. That was important to me.”

The end zone project will also result in more restrooms and concession stands, but those facilities will be temporary this season. The $89.9 million project will be completed in time for the 2019 season.

“In year one, we’re just going to ask for a little patience. The seats will be in. You’ll be able to sit and watch the game,” Barta said. “The sound is going to be louder. It’s going to feel more closed in.

“I think it’s going to add to an already historic experience.”