Howe: Sad to See the End of Iowa Playing Drake, UNI

December 13, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – So, the Big Four Classic ends its seven-year run on Saturday. Iowa State matches up with Drake. Iowa takes on Northern Iowa at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

For the foreseeable future, we won’t see the larger in-state schools playing the smaller ones. It’s a shame and a sign of the times.

The Hawkeyes announced during the summer that they would no longer be playing in the event. There was a clause in the contract stating if any team was obligated by its conference to play 22 games, it could pull out.

Iowa faces 20 Big Ten games this year. The league also has agreements with ACC and the Big East for conference challenges, giving the Hawkeyes 22 set contests.

The Big Four Classic sprung up when Iowa and Iowa State chose to cancel playing home-and-home games against Drake and UNI following the 2010-11 season. The new event would have the big schools alternating playing against the smaller ones every year. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones would continue their home-and-home series.

Now, that compromise is gone.

“Scheduling becomes confusing now and they just changed it again with the NET formula,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday. “So it’s just one of those things. I have enjoyed the event. I have tremendous respect for (UNI coach) Ben (Jacobson) and his program. The players that he has are very good. It’s going to be a tough game for us. But we’ll just move on with whatever schedule we have.”

The Hawkeyes have faced Drake 69 times and UNI 45 times. From 1990-2011, there were home-and-homes with both. The home-and-home setup with Drake stretches back even further.

Now, we wait to see if they’ll meet again in the future. McCaffery says it’s possible but is unsure of the likelihood of it happening.

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“I’ve always taken pride in being able to play other in-state teams, just being an Iowa kid that’s something I’ve always had,” said Iowa senior Nicholas Baer, who played at Bettendorf High. “I’m a little sad to see it go but I understand with 20 league games that some changes had to be made.”

Iowa will play 31 regular-season games this season. That’s pretty standard. The big difference is having 20 conference contests and two fewer non-conference tilts beginning this year.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge is annual. The eight-year Gavitt Games contract states Big Ten teams will play in a minimum of four contests. The Hawkeyes have played in two of the first four Gavitt Games.

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Iowa also plays annually in an exempt tournament. Sometimes these events can be four games.

The Hawkeyes participated in the 2K Classic this season. They opened it with UMKC and Green Bay at home. And then faced Oregon and Connecticut in New York.

That doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility with the non-conference schedule. Alabama State, Western Carolina, Savannah State and Bryant fill out this year’s slate.

There will be years where the Hawkeyes could have more flexibility and potentially fit in the Big Four Classic. But that’s unpredictable.

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Iowa also could punt on one of the “pay-me” games against really weak opponents. They play too many of them as it is. But I get it. All the big schools stack some guaranteed victories and win total does matter at the end of the season.

Optics also are important. Although offensive to Drake and UNI, it’s expected that they lose to Iowa and Iowa State. It’s viewed by many as a “no-win” situation for the big schools.

The real people that lose, however, are the fans. There are proud alums from all four schools scattered throughout the state and they’ve done a good job attending the Big Four Classic.

It’s disappointing. We all remember the upsets or the just the competitive games played with the David-versus-Goliath dynamic. These games are emotional for a lot of in-state kids competing and the fan bases.

That’s gone now. It’s a bummer for the state.

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