Guest Column: Next ISU president needs to address health of Big 12


Graphic: Iowa State Daily

Large cracks in crumbling asphalt.

The new ISU president will have a handful of problems and opportunities to juggle. One of the most delicate and important is the fate of ISU’s football program. I wonder if the search committee had that very high on their list of criteria as they winnowed down the choice.

I read recently at Turner Sports Interactive that, “There is concern that a departure by the [Texas A&M] Aggies could jeopardize the future of the Big 12, which is down to 10 teams after Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left the league last July. The

Big 12 would need to find a team to replace the Aggies if they exit the conference and there has been a lot of speculation about possible schools. So far, the only school to publicly express interest in moving to the Big 12 is SMU. Athletic director Steve Orsini said he’s had informal talks with Big 12 officials for some time to inform them of the school’s improvements and growth.”

This is a potential crisis of monumental dimensions. Iowa playing SMU, a private university of 11,000 students, is not exciting even though the Mustangs can play a pretty good game. Quarterback Eddie Printz and SMU’s “Run-and-Shoot” offense that relies on the passing game (which runs from the shotgun formation with four or five receivers spread out wide) can be fun to watch. But it ain’t Big Red and oh, how we miss the Huskers.

Iowa State is a “big football” state university. ISU students, the state of Iowa and especially alumni value their identity as Cyclones often above any academic or “economic development” programs. Ask someone in What Cheer, Iowa, or Paullina, Ute or Charter Oak and they’ll know the ‘Clones but probably not the ISU Center for Integrated Animal Genomics.

I travel throughout the United States and abroad. More often than not, someone will mention the Cyclones and it’s usually football not the other sports. When I was at the launching ceremony for a new world-class coral reef research center in Florida, those of us who were officiating introduced ourselves and when I said, “Iowa State University,” former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said, “Yeah, the Cyclones. Great team!” He didn’t say, “Yeah, great biofuels program!” or “What a first-rate vet school.”

Oddly enough, the same thing has happened to me even abroad in such non-football places as Croatia and even the Kingdom of Tonga. Sports are a huge identity factor; a lingua franca, common language, so to speak that is often the only piece of information people have to start a conversation.

So, I suggest that you prepare some thoughtful questions for the presidential candidates and ask them in the public rolling out forums.

Even if you are not a big football fan, the health and vitality of our Big 12 football program is much more important than many of us realize.

The answer the presidential candidates give is just as important as their plans for diversity and “excellence” in academics for which they will no doubt have an excellent answer.

Go Cyclones!