IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa has an opening on its 2019 football schedule.
So does Arkansas, after Michigan dropped them from its nonconference schedule in 2018 and 2019.
Now, the Razorbacks have a crater-like scheduling hole for those two years. Critics pounded the Hawkeyes relentlessly last November for its regular-season slate. Fans recently have complained about the lack of variety in Iowa’s future schedules.
Right now, the going is tough for both schools to fill those slot.
“My staff and I are working on it,” said Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, as reported by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt. “There’s not a day that goes by that we aren’t having a call trying to convince somebody to do something different.
“It’s very late. We knew that when (Michigan) pulled out.”
In multiple interviews last week, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and deputy athletic director Gene Taylor said the school was interested in adding a future Power 5 opponent. Until the Big Ten expanded the league schedule to nine games this fall, Iowa traditionally played Iowa State, one other Power-5 opponent, a Mid-American Conference school and often an FCS program. In the recent past Iowa has faced Pittsburgh, Arizona, Syracuse and Arizona State as its second Power 5 opponent.
“I’d like to see some other Power 5 schools, maybe not always a MAC school,” Taylor said. “You hear a lot of discussions about what happened the first weekend with all those big games. Are we going to look at that? It’s going to be hard for us right now, just with the nine games plus Iowa State to find a hole for that. I’m sure as more and more of those games happen down the road, it raises opportunities.”
With the Hawkeyes’ contract through 2021 with Iowa State, that leaves only two open games. Iowa, which earns about $5 million from each home game, requires seven home games to fund its 24 sports and pay its department bills. It’s unlikely a major opponent with the same financial structure would come to Iowa City for a MAC-like guarantee (Miami of Ohio receives $1.2 million in 2019) and a one-time game. But a neutral-site bonanza might approach the lost gate revenue, gain vital exposure and avoid a costly guarantee.
It almost appears Arkansas and Iowa are backing into one another. So why not just hook up?
Both schools have passionate fan bases. The coaches are familiar with one another. Their program profiles and traditions are similar. Coming together for one game at a neutral site — can anyone say Kansas City? — for the 2019 opening weekend would provide a palatable solution to their imperfect situations. Iowa would avoid a home-and-home with any Power 5 opponent at least until its contract expires with Iowa State.
Arkansas is wide open on Aug. 31, 2019. Iowa is scheduled to play Miami of Ohio that day, but the school has moved guaranteed games in the past. The Hawkeyes also have open dates on Sept. 21 and Sept. 28.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was a team captain at Iowa in 1992. He coached there under both Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. He even sports a Tiger-Hawk tattoo on his left calf.
During a June interview with Iowa City radio stadium KCJJ, Bielema suggested the schools meet for a neutral site game. His idea came nearly two weeks before Michigan dropped its series with the Razorbacks.
Bret Bielema also brought up the possibility of Iowa and Arkansas facing each other at a neutral site such as Kansas City. I like the idea.
— Pat Harty (@PatHarty) June 27, 2016
On his weekly radio show Wednesday night, Ferentz and announcer Gary Dolphin discussed Iowa’s future schedules. Dolphin asked whether Ferentz would listen if former Iowa colleague and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops inquired about playing the Hawkeyes at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ferentz said. “I just don’t know the ABCs of it financially. That’s not my strength or forte.”
Since 2009, Arkansas has played five neutral-site games in Arlington, Texas with another scheduled for Saturday night against Texas A&M. Iowa has played three under Ferentz — twice in Chicago against Northern Illinois (2007, 2012) and once in Kansas City against Kansas State in 2000. With six Texas commits in the class of 2017, a neutral trip to Arlington would continue to boost Iowa’s profile in the state.
Meeting in Kansas City might make more sense for both programs. It’s a 300-mile trip from Iowa City and a 250-mile jaunt for Arkansas. It’s fertile recruiting area in a state geographically contiguous to both programs. It also has prime weekend entertainment options before or after the game. Television would love a Big Ten-SEC early-season challenge before a full crowd.
This makes too much sense not to do it. Let’s call it what it is: it’s a match made in Hog/Hawk heaven.
If there was a B1G-SEC challenge (dream on), who should Iowa play?https://t.co/cfGPeIFuPf
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) June 1, 2016