IOWA CITY, Iowa — Few topics generate as much speculation and discussion as football scheduling, and such is the case with Big Ten schools over the years.
Whether it was the Michigan-Ohio State season-ending situation or the Wisconsin-Iowa split that derailed the defunct Legends and Leaders divisions, Big Ten scheduling has had its challenges over the years. If programs and fans aren’t complaining about who they’re playing, they’re complaining about when they play.
Iowa has had several scheduling quirks in the Big Ten, ranging from the infrequency of games against Ohio State to a shocking incident that canned the Iowa-Illinois rivalry for 15 years.
Here’s a look at four odd scheduling situations involving Iowa over the last 100 football seasons.
Iowa-Ohio State ‘series’
For more than 70 years, Iowa and Ohio State were the Big Ten’s geographical outposts, and their football series often reflected that distance.
Since the Hawkeyes’ 12-9 victory against the Buckeyes in 1922, the teams have played just 65 games, fourth-fewest among the nine Big Ten teams competing before Michigan State’s arrival in 1953. Even in the modern era, the squads have squared off just eight times since 2001.
In the early days, Big Ten squads could determine which league teams they wanted to play and where. Between 1929 and 1944, Iowa played Ohio State just once and went 26 years without facing the Buckeyes in Iowa City. When they finally played at Iowa Stadium in 1952, the winless Hawkeyes shocked Woody Hayes and No. 14 Ohio State 8-0.
“Usually Iowa was going to Ohio State,” said Lou Matykiewicz, Iowa’s quarterback that day. “They [thought they] were going to Rose Bowl, 5-0. The other thing is they threw 29 passes. Woody Hayes never threw 29 passes the rest of the year.”
In 1981, Iowa and Ohio State were the only Big Ten teams not to play in the regular season. It was a significant scheduling whiff. The teams tied for the Big Ten title with 6-2 records when the other eight teams all played nine games. The Hawkeyes earned the trip to Pasadena because they had the longer Rose Bowl drought between the teams.
In 2002, both teams tied for the league title with 8-0 records. The stakes were higher than in even 1981 because the national title was at stake. No. 2-ranked Ohio State’s unblemished record trumped No. 3-ranked Iowa’s one-loss mark so the Buckeyes advanced to the BCS title game. Iowa settled for an Orange Bowl bid.
After 2006, the teams have played only four times and all were memorable. In 2009, Ohio State beat Iowa 27-24 in overtime in a winner-take-all Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes claimed the 2010 meeting with a last-second touchdown. In 2013, the teams were tied in the fourth quarter before Ohio State pulled away for a 10-point win. Last fall, the Hawkeyes shocked the Buckeyes 55-24 to ruin Ohio State’s national title hopes.
The league’s scheduling should stabilize in the future with the squads currently scheduled to play every three years. But scheduling in the previous 95 years was anything but regular.
1930 scheduling disaster
Multiple Big Ten schools paid athletes through unethical means in the late 1920s, but Iowa just happened to get caught.
Iowa stubbornly fought slush-fund charges to the point where it was evicted from the Big Ten effective Jan. 1, 1930. Three different times before its eviction, Iowa applied to have the banishment rescinded, but its appeals were rejected. To gain reinstatement, the school fired several athletics officials and the Hawkeyes declared 29 athletes ineligible. Big Ten and school officials readmitted Iowa on Feb. 2, 1930.
That one month caused significant chaos to Iowa’s 1930 sports schedules. Iowa was barred from the football scheduling process, so it filled its fall slate with eight nonconference opponents. Its final two opponents — Penn State and Nebraska — eventually became Big Ten members.
Ultimately, one Big Ten team did offer to play the Hawkeyes. Purdue and Iowa reached an agreement on April 11, 1930, to meet on Oct. 18. Iowa had to reschedule its game with George Washington, which turned into a home-and-home in 1931 and 1932. Purdue dumped Lombard College in order to play the Hawkeyes. The defending Big Ten champion Boilermakers whipped the Hawkeyes 20-0.
“While the defeat was disheartening, Iowa has no grudge against the Lafayette team,” wrote Bill Rutledge of the Daily Iowan. “Purdue graciously altered its schedule last spring to include Iowa, after other conference members had flatly refused to play with the Hawkeyes.”
It’s the only season since World War I in which Iowa and Minnesota have not played.
Iowa-Illinois apple fiasco
The Iowa-Illinois rivalry has generated plenty of spice in all sports, especially basketball. The football series featured its own moment that altered schedules for 15 years.
In 1952, the Illini blasted the Hawkeyes 33-13 at Iowa Stadium. In the second half, Iowa coach Forest Evashevski chided officials for an offensive pass interference penalty that riled up the home fans. Evashevski was hit for unsportsmanlike conduct.
By the game’s end, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. Apple cores, oranges, cans and bottles were hurled at Illinois players and officials. Fans dangerously spilled onto the field. One Iowa supporter taunted and grabbed Illinois tight end Rocky Ryan, who punched the fan in the face and shattered his jaw.
The teams already were off each other’s schedules in 1953 and 1954. They extended that hiatus until 1967.
“I think there was a great concern on part of the presidents at the time the incident happened and didn’t want that series to go on,” former Illinois athletics director Ron Guenther told me in 2011. “They may have waited too long. I don’t know why it lasted 15 years. That’s a long time. A lot of people were gone that didn’t know about that incident.”
Perhaps the hiatus’ worst part was some of the era’s best Big Ten teams did not compete against one another. Iowa won conference titles in 1956, 1958 and 1960. Illinois claimed championships in 1953 and 1963. The Hawkeyes featured Outland Trophy winners Cal Jones and Alex Karras, while Illinois was led by linebacker Dick Butkus.
In another scheduling whiff, the border foes failed to meet for five consecutive seasons. A natural rotation kept both off one another’s schedules in 2009 and 2010. When the Big Ten expanded in 2011, Iowa and Illinois were placed in opposite divisions and originally weren’t scheduled to play each other in a cross-divisional game until 2015. When the Big Ten changed its divisional structure to geography in 2014, the Hawkeyes and Illini faced one another that fall for the first time since 2008.
Expansion twice derails Iowa-Wisconsin
Big Ten football teams competed in an unbalanced number of league games until 1965, when each squad was required to play seven games. The games increased to eight in 1970 and some teams played nine Big Ten games from 1977 through 1984. Then it returned to eight in 1985, which lasted until 2016 when it bumped back to nine.
Those scheduling quirks changed nothing in the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry. From 1937 through 1992, the teams met annually and fans enjoyed the three-hour drive along Highway 151 between the Upper Midwest communities.
When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, the league schedule failed to include Iowa-Wisconsin that year and in 1994. Without a formal scheduling policy, it was up to league officials to set the annual slate. Iowa and Wisconsin officials protested, and beginning with the 1995 season every team could protect two league opponents for annual games and play the other eight foes six times over an eight-year period. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa protected one another.
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, the league opted for divisional play. Instead of geography, competitive balance was the first tenet for realignment. Teams were divided by historical prowess with the top four (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska) split into two divisions. Wisconsin and Iowa were next, and they were also divided. While one cross-divisional rivalry was protected per team, the Badgers’ series with Minnesota (which was placed in Iowa’s division) is the most played in Division I history. That game’s importance outranks nearly every other Big Ten rivalry, so Iowa-Wisconsin was shelved in 2011 and 2012.
“It was obvious to me that as much as we wanted to protect the Iowa rivalry that we weren’t probably going to be in the same division,” Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez told me in 2011. “I know [Iowa AD] Gary [Barta] and I fought to have us in the same division. We wanted that game played every year, but it just wasn’t going to work out and there had to be a give and take.
“We were very close to setting things and I made one more run saying,’ I don’t feel good about this.’ I wanted to protect that because I knew it was important to our people, and I think Gary felt the same way.”
The teams were set for a pair of non-divisional games in 2013 and 2014, but another round of expansion actually glued the Hawkeyes and Badgers to one another instead of ripping them apart. When Maryland and Rutgers joined the league in 2014, Big Ten officials reshuffled the divisions based on geography. Iowa and Wisconsin were placed in the Big Ten West Division and have played five consecutive years.
May the series last for eternity … or at least through the next Big Ten expansion.