Kinnick wrestling: Warming the mat and other answers

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – November outdoor wrestling in Iowa — sounds like a logistical, burdensome nightmare, right?

Quite the opposite, actually.

“Our facilities crew, they’re almost giddy over this thing,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “When they first heard about it, they started putting their heads together.”

The result was Thursday’s unveiling of an 11 a.m. dual on Nov. 14 between Iowa and Oklahoma State inside Kinnick Stadium.

It’s happening, just hours before Iowa and Minnesota kick off a Big Ten Conference showdown under the lights at 7 p.m.

Oh, by the way, the previous night includes the Iowa women’s and men’s basketball season openers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It’s going to be all hands on deck,” athletics director Gary Barta said. “And when Sunday arrives, we’ll all collapse.”

With that, we take you to what are bound to be the most frequently asked questions about how all of this — specifically outdoor wrestling on the doorstep of winter — will come together.

Why are they doing this?

Brands would answer, “Why not?” There’s great pride involving the NCAA dual attendance record, and right now the mark that was once Iowa’s rests in Happy Valley with Penn State and rival coach Cael Sanderson (15,996, set in 2013). When Barta lined up a home 7 p.m. football game in November, that opened a daytime window during wrestling season that converges with the passionate throng of Hawkeye football fans.

Where will they put the mat, and will it be on an elevated stage?

Near the south end zone, and no. It would have been cool, but as Barta put it, “With a football game the same day, we had to be realistic in what we could do and couldn’t do.” The resources aren’t equivalent to that of a Super Bowl halftime show — setup and teardown, especially in unpredictable weather, was too much of an unknown.

What if the mat freezes?

It won’t, as long as the electricity is working. The plan is to run electric-powered heated strips between the football turf and the mat. It won’t be the usual competition mat at Carver-Hawkeye Arena either. Why? Well, that mat will be in place in case of inclement weather.

About that contingency plan: What if it’s 20 degrees? Rains? Snows?

As mentioned, really bad weather means moving it inside to Carver-Hawkeye — and that would be a bummer. What’s really bad? Barta said anything below freezing temperatures would be grounds for making the call. “Until it would be deemed unsafe,” Barta said, “it’s going to be in (Kinnick).” Certainly heavy precipitation would be impossible because of the injury risks of wrestling on ice or water.

How will the wrestlers react to cold weather? And will they be able to properly warm up?

Ha! Nice try. Wrestlers, especially at Iowa and Oklahoma State, are tough as nails. They really would try to pin each other while on a mudslide being pelted by hail. There will be mat space for on-field warmups, but primary preparation will take place in the tunnels underneath Kinnick’s south end zone bleachers. But yeah, don’t worry about the wrestlers in singlets. “Our adrenaline will be running pretty good,” Iowa 149-pound All-American Brandon Sorensen said, “so the weather shouldn’t be too big of a problem.”

How will tickets be handled?

It’s a little complicated. But if you want a guaranteed seat, call 800-424-2957 or visit or pay a visit to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and buy an $80 season ticket. Until Oct. 1, that’s the only way to get a reserved seat. Then they’ll cost $10. The first 15,000 are guaranteed a seat if it moves to Carver; the first 25,400 get a reserved seat at Kinnick. After that, it’s general admission. Children (5 and under) and UI students are admitted free, but they still need to acquire a ticket. Fans will be cleared out of Kinnick so that football ticketholders are unaffected.

Will there be on-field seating?

Yes. The first 350 students to line up at Kinnick will be seated in bleachers (the ones that are in front of Kinnick’s north stands for football games) surrounding the mat. “Regular” fans will be in the stands.

What can we expect for a crowd?

They’ll seat 70,000 if 70,000 are willing to buy tickets. Bad weather would be the main thing that could spoil the NCAA attendance record. Iowa gets 10,000-ish for big duals as it is; all the wrestling die-hards will be there for this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. Add that core to the football faithful, plus maybe a thousand or so Minnesota football fans that also like wrestling and hate Iowa, and it has the potential to be record-smashing. A 7-2 (or better) Iowa football start or Big Ten West division contention would help generate buzz. A lot ticket-buyers will be walk-ups — waiting to check out the weather. So it’s hard to say. At least 20,000 seems like a safe bet, but 50,000 isn’t impossible.

Where will wrestling fans park?

Let’s chalk this up as unavoidable: You’re on your own. Many of you already have pre-arranged football parking. Others will need to figure it out. Pay $30 and park on Melrose Avenue if you have to. The Hawkeye Express train will NOT be in operation for the wrestling dual; they couldn’t close the railroad track for the entire day. “Just like if you buy a single football ticket,” Barta said, “there’s several parking opportunities throughout the community.” Cutting into football parking in any way would’ve been divisive and bad PR.

Who deserves the credit for this master plan?

Pass the kudos hat around Iowa, from Barta to Brands to the facilities, event and marketing staff. But director of wrestling operation Luke Eustice deserves a shout-out for pushing forward on logistics that you haven’t even thought about. “He’s gone as far as taken a range-finder to see how far it is from these seats to the middle of the mat, comparing it to Carver,” Brands said. “And it lines up pretty good. So, rock and roll.”


Nov. 14 — vs. Oklahoma State (Kinnick Stadium)

Nov. 20 — Iowa City Duals (Cornell College, Grand Canyon, Iowa Central CC, Maryland)

Nov. 29 — at Iowa State

Dec. 4 — vs. South Dakota State

Dec. 10 — vs. Rutgers

Dec. 29-30 — at Midlands (Evanston, Ill.)

Jan. 8 — at Illinois

Jan. 10 — at Northwestern

Jan. 16 — at Wisconsin

Jan. 22 — vs. Purdue

Jan. 24 — at Nebraska

Jan. 30 — vs. Minnesota

Feb. 5 — vs. Indiana

Feb. 21-22 — National Duals. TBD

Mar. 5-6 — Big Ten Championships, Iowa City (Carver-Hawkeye Arena)

Mar. 17-19 — NCAA Championships, New York City (Madison Square Garden)

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