IOWA CITY, Iowa — Black Friday has become a football tradition for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes joined Nebraska in the Big Ten’s first slice of pigskin pie the day after Thanksgiving. When Nebraska married into the conference in 2011, league officials scheduled the Cornhuskers with Iowa as the regular-season finale as a way to jump-start a rivalry. Within a handful of months, the schools agreed to move the game to Black Friday, which is where it will stay through 2019.
That’s not when it will be played into the next decade, however. Big Ten officials switched up the 2020 and 2021 schedules, which have Iowa playing Wisconsin and Nebraska facing Minnesota in the final week.
Those games currently are scheduled for the final Saturday, but both could move to Friday. In fact, any Big Ten regular-season finale could shift to Black Friday if both teams agree.
“If anybody’s playing on that last week and would like to move their game from Saturday to Friday, we’d take it to the athletic directors and make a recommendation,” said Mark Rudner, Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration. “I think it’s fertile territory.”
Let’s face it: If the teams are open to it and television wants it, both games will move to Black Friday. While reluctant at first, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday he was all for finishing on the final Friday of November. He likes that his players can get an extended holiday weekend with family.
“But believe it or not, that little window of Friday, especially when you play at home, guys can walk out of here Friday before 6 p.m., and the ones that live locally getting to home and maybe eat some turkey with their family and stuff like that,” Ferentz said. “Stuff they used to do 10 years ago and in college. So selfishly, I think that’s another reason it’s a pretty good deal.”
As Big Ten West Division opponents, Iowa and Nebraska will continue to play annually. In 2020, they meet Nov. 14, and they also play Nov. 6, 2021. Neither school requested to annul their Black Friday obligations; it was part of the league’s planned schedule rotation.
“It doesn’t feel like a divorce to me,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said. “It just feels like a rotation. I’m glad [the season finale is] against a border state. I’m glad it’s a trophy game because I think there have been some big moments against Wisconsin, and my guess is there will be more big moments in the future.”
“I wouldn’t even say that was thought about,” Rudner said of moving Iowa-Nebraska off Black Friday. “That wasn’t even a consideration. Iowa and Nebraska is still a great rivalry; it’s just played a couple of weeks early. Iowa and Wisconsin is a great rivalry, and we all remember when Iowa and Minnesota used to end the season.”
The Hawkeyes and Gophers played in one or the other’s Big Ten finale every year from 1983 through 2009. Iowa and Wisconsin faced off in the regular-season finale in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, the winner claimed a share of the Big Ten championship when Iowa beat Wisconsin, 30-7.
Iowa and Wisconsin have met 90 times, with the Badgers holding a 45-43-2 edge. When the Big Ten expanded to include Nebraska in 2011, the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry was shelved for two years. Both Barta and Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez fought to keep the rivalry, but the competitively focused divisional makeup wouldn’t allow it. When the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, the league switched to geographic divisions and the Hawkeyes-Badgers rivalry returned to annual status.
While the season-finale change raised eyebrows, it’s unlikely to become permanent.
“It’s more of that Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota flipping around the last week,” Rudner said. “Just like you’ll see it in the East with Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland. We knew that Iowa and Wisconsin was a huge rivalry. It was one of the games that both fan bases missed when we were Legends and Leaders. So it seems like a natural to end the season, just like Iowa and Nebraska did a few years ago.”
The only Big Ten rivalries considered traditional for the season finale include Michigan-Ohio State, Purdue-Indiana and Northwestern-Illinois. Iowa-Nebraska didn’t meet that status.
“I think Michigan and Ohio State have been playing a lot more years than Iowa-Nebraska,” Barta said. “But I thought it was great playing Nebraska at the end of the year.”