Long: Iowa State needs athletic contingency plan


Graphic: Iowa State Daily

Conference Re-alignment

Craig Long

This past week, realignment talk started up again in the NCAA, and once again Iowa State barely escaped. God bless the Pac-12. Just like when Nebraska and Colorado bolted from the Big 12 Conference a year ago, we survived only as the conference did. The Pac-12’s announcement that it would not be accepting new schools forced Oklahoma and Texas to stay put, at least for now. Although everything worked out in the end, there were definitely some stressful moments where you had to ask: Where do we fit in this whole scheme?

When all of this talk started up, I believed we would end up with the Big East. It appeared that the remnants of the Big 12 would join the Big East remnants to form the Red-Headed Stepchild conference. I kid about the name, but many of the schools that would have joined the RHS conference are exactly that — unattractive, unwanted schools for whatever reason.

Things were looking so bad that the Mountain West, fodder of the Boise State Broncos, reached out to Iowa State. We need to go somewhere, and obviously conferences like the Mountain West and the Mid-America Conference would jump at the chance to grab a former power-conference school. If it is an upgrade for them, however, it most certainly would be a downgrade for us.

Look at it objectively: We are not the best school in the Big 12, athletically or academically (going off U.S. News rankings). We don’t have a huge TV viewership (though, I would argue we hold our own in the state against Iowa better than most people give us credit for) and thus, don’t bring in an excess amount of money to larger conferences.

Aside from that, however, we’ve got a pretty good thing going, especially as of late. We’re an Association of American Universities member, for starters. The AAU is a collection of schools that meet certain academic standards, and that is a big deal to certain conferences. The entire Big Ten, except Nebraska (though they were when they were admitted last year, they’ve since been voted out), are members. To join a conference that does not feature high academic standards would be to harm our own position, conference members, though they may be sports rivals, often partner to conduct research that benefits all the members.

In addition, our football program has been better than .500 against Iowa in the past 15 years. That’s not to say we’d be out winning Big Ten championships with regularity. With that being the only rubric to measure how we would fare in football in the Big Ten, it is hard to argue against that we would be competitive, now and in the future. Our other sports, such as women’s basketball, volleyball, and wrestling typically field nationally competitive teams. The buzz around the men’s basketball team is greater now than I can remember it being since the departure of Larry Eustachy; coach Fred Hoiberg’s teams look to grow and make more and more noise as time progresses.

Despite the fact that we should be a more than appetizing school for a major conference to pick up, however, nothing is said, nothing is heard and our future is in doubt. During this past realignment period, there were different reports flying from every direction about which conference was in negotiations with which school, and what it meant to the big picture. However, the Big Ten was quiet, as was Iowa State. It seemed as though neither side even considered the possibility of membership, or opened discussions for it, even though we are the only large state school within the Big Ten’s footprint that is not a member. We qualify academically, and to automatically say that we would fail to compete (or be worse than Minnesota, Northwestern or Indiana) is a false statement.

So what’s happening here? Is it that Iowa fans’ boastful disgust of Iowa State is leaking into school leadership? Whereas schools like Texas and Texas Tech or Oklahoma and Oklahoma State make it clear that they are a package deal, it seems that Iowa is unwilling to lobby for us. Though Iowa doesn’t have nearly the clout of Ohio State or Michigan, if Iowa President Sally Mason met with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, he would listen to what she had to say.

Is it a simple lack of competence by ISU leadership? Losing major conference membership would be devastating to the university as a whole. Maybe it just wasn’t leaked, but if we haven’t opened discussions with the Big Ten, something needs to change. After last time, when the situation seemed tenuous at best, we should have formed contingency plans. If the Big Ten was unwilling to look into offering us membership, we should have looked at what they are looking for in a school and tried to emulate it.

If the Big Ten refused simply because we don’t carry a lot of TV sets with us, then it should be embarrassed. If it is all about the money, everything the conference stands for academically is a lie. They’re no better than money-hungry Texas, whose cash-grabbing network re-started this whole thing.

The biggest result from these past couple weeks is this: We survived, again. However, we need to learn from our mistakes and be active and aggressive now. If we were naive enough to believe that the conference would stay together last time, this last episode was our wakeup call. We can’t hit snooze again.