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Northern Iowa Could Feel The Squeeze
Saturday starts an eight-year period during which Northern Iowa will receive at least $3.15 million to play football games at Iowa State and Iowa.
How long the Panthers’ sugar daddies continue doling out appearance money is as uncertain as what team forces the next conference realignment domino to fall.
It’s not only Northern Iowa, which plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at 1-2 Iowa State, watching big-boy landscapes these days. So are officials at Ball State, many of whom will be in Iowa City for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against the 2-1 Hawkeyes.
Those two schools will earn a combined $1.1 million for playing in Iowa on Saturday, but future big payouts like that depend on who’s playing who once the conference shuffle is complete.
“It concerns me, because what we get for playing schools like Iowa State and Iowa is a huge part of our athletic department budget,” Northern Iowa athletic director Troy Dannen said.
It concerns Ball State athletic director Tom Collins, too, that majors like Iowa State and Iowa are working toward cutting nonconference schedules from four games to three.
“It’s going to be one less guaranteed game everyone is offering,” Collins said. “Each year, we need to play at least one big guarantee game.”
Northern Iowa, with an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision program, gets $300,000 for Saturday’s game at Jack Trice Stadium. Mid-major Ball State gets $800,000 to play at Kinnick Stadium.
“It’s going to make it tougher on schools like us, because everyone will try to get a guaranteed game,” Dannen said. “It’s going to be a scramble, because the Iowa States and the Iowas are going to be playing one fewer nonconference game.”
Northern Iowa, 1-1 after Saturday’s loss against Stephen F. Austin, also will play at Iowa State in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Panthers play at Iowa in 2012 and 2014.
Money from those games is significant, considering the school has an athletic budget of $11.6 million this year.
Northern Iowa needs games like this to follow through on its plan to cut general fund support by almost $250,000 by 2015. The athletic department receives $4.45 from the school’s fund.
“It’s going to be a three-week window of opportunity, and we would like to play two (BCS opponents) during that period,” Dannen said. “But so would everybody else.”
Athletic directors at Iowa State and Iowa know Northern Iowa’s situation.
“We will continue to play one FCS game each year,” Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard said. “We have a great relationship with Troy Dannen and (football coach) Mark Farley, and we anticipate continuing to play them in the foreseeable future.”
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, a former director of athletics development and external relations at Northern Iowa, also envisions future games with the Panthers.
“I don’t have intentions of changing,” he said, “but I won’t make any crystal ball predictions until I see our Big Ten schedules.”
Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which includes Northern Iowa, hopes BCS teams keep regional ties when forced to pare schedules.
“Whenever you have the two major conferences in our region each going on record saying they are increasing conference games from eight to nine will give us pause,” she said of the Big 12 and Big Ten scheduling model. “We should be a little concerned about how that might affect us.
“I’m somewhat optimistic some of the traditional games will remain; keeping the money in the state is good for the state and good for the fans.
“I hope those matchups won’t be diminished, but somebody is going to be left out. It’s just simple math. I’m not paranoid about it, but I’m concerned.”
By Randy Peterson, The Des Moines Register