Big Ten does Iowa men no favors in league schedule

July 24, 2009


Iowa forward Aaron Fuller, center, battles to maintain control of the ball against Michigan forward Zack Gibson, left, and guard Zack Novak during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten men's tournament Thursday, March 12, 2009 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Iowa forward Aaron Fuller, center, battles to maintain control of the ball against Michigan forward Zack Gibson, left, and guard Zack Novak during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten men's tournament Thursday, March 12, 2009 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The Big Ten announced its single-play games for the 2009-10 men’s basketball schedule. Iowa plays at Wisconsin and hosts Penn State. It’s debatable whether any place is a good destination for the Iowa men’s basketball team after losing 11 straight road games. That tied a season record and is one road loss from tying the all-time school record.

So it’s easy to look at the Big Ten slate — the dates have not been announced — and shrug your shoulders. After all, Iowa’s last two league seasons have produced an 11-25 record, the worst two-year Big Ten record in school history. But it would have worked to Iowa’s favor had the league flipped the single plays with Iowa hosting Wisconsin this year and traveling to Penn State. Here’s why:

 Iowa has lost its last eight games at Wisconsin by an average of 10 points. Iowa has lost its last three at Penn State, but those losses have come by a combined seven points. Before the recent three-game losing streak, Iowa had won three straight at State College by an average of 15 points. With a young, inexperienced and recently unsuccessful team, the schedule could have provided that break for Iowa. It did not.

It’s not like Iowa has many other reprieves on its Big Ten road schedule, either. Here’s a look at Iowa’s recent history at Big Ten venues:

  • At Illinois: Lost 8 straight and 19 of 20
  • At Indiana: Lost 3 straight and 7 of 9
  • At Michigan: Lost 1 but won 3 of 4
  • At Michigan State: Lost 14 straight
  • At Minnesota: Lost 1 and 3 of 4
  • At Northwestern: Lost 4 of 5
  • At Ohio State: Lost 4 straight
  • At Purdue: Lost 3 of 4
  • At Penn State: Lost 3 straight (does not play in State College this winter)
  • At Wisconsin: Lost last 8

The in-state schools are no picnic, either. Iowa plays at both Northern Iowa and Iowa State this year, while hosting Drake. Here’s the recent trend involving Iowa and its in-state rivals:

  • At Iowa State: Lost 3 straight
  • At Northern Iowa: Lost 3 of 4
  • At Drake: Lost 2 straight, but won 13 previous games (Iowa hosts Drake this year)

Iowa also plays in Kansas City’s CBE Classic (formerly known as the Guardians Classic) this fall. The opening round games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena include Duquesne and Illinois-Chicago. Iowa owns a 2-1 record against Duquesne, but never has played Illinois-Chicago. Iowa then will play two games against either Pittsburgh, Texas or Wichita State at Kansas City. Pittsburgh was ranked No. 1 for three weeks last year, while Texas also qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State played in the postseason College Basketball Invitational. Iowa last played Pittsburgh in 1997, and Wichita State in 1981 (the heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss). Iowa played Texas in the Guardians Classic in 2006.

 As for the Big Ten, here’s a look at all of the single-play match-ups. It’s nice to see Michigan State and Purdue play twice this year, because they easily are the top Big Ten teams returning this year. But it’s also strange for Wisconsin, which has its single plays againsts Iowa and Minnesota. Those three teams are considered priority rivalries in Big Ten football and must play annually.

  • ILLINOIS | Minnesota, at Michigan
  • INDIANA | Michigan State, at Penn State
  • IOWA | Penn State, at Wisconsin
  • MICHIGAN | Illinois, at Purdue
  • MICHIGAN STATE | Ohio State, at Indiana
  • MINNESOTA | Wisconsin, at Illinois
  • NORTHWESTERN | Purdue, at Ohio State
  • OHIO STATE | Northwestern, at Michigan State
  • PENN STATE | Indiana, at Iowa
  • PURDUE | Michigan, at Northwestern
  • WISCONSIN | Iowa, at Minnesota

NFL Network vs. Big Ten Network in the dead zone

July 3, 2009

Slow doesn’t begin to describe this time of year for college athletics and the NFL. Having covered both for a significant period of time, I can tell you everyone associated with the NFL is on vacation during the July 4 holiday. Likewise, college officials usually are as far from campus as possible.

It’s only reasonable to expect two networks exclusively televising pro football or college athletics to struggle for relevant programming this time of year. To examine this, I went through the entire television schedule of both the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network beginning with Sunday, June 28 and ending on July 4. Here are my observations.

Both networks repeat programming the same way Clear Channel recycles songs and news stories on the radio. The Big Ten Network repeated programming 45 times during this week. That includes four telecasts of “Big Ten Legends: Lloyd Carr” and four airings of the 2009 Big Ten men’s tennis tournament. The NFL Network is much, much worse. It replayed its programming 90 times during the seven-day period.

The Big Ten Network is required to show campus programming, and this is the perfect time of year to do so. There were three airings of Purdue’s “Boiler Bytes,” and Northwestern’s “Student Concerto Competition.” Iowa varied its campus programming with shows on vitality, sustainability and “Getting Ready for the Boom.” I presume that’s a euphemism for the alarm clock to wake us from that programming, but I digress.

The Big Ten Network has done a good job of trying to shake up its replays by instituting campus-specific programming on different days. There have been (and will be again on July 12) Iowa days when the network airs past games in which Iowa was victorious.

During this sample week, the Big Ten Network devoted a day for Wisconsin. The programming included a 1999 Rose Bowl victory, a big basketball win against Maryland in 2000 and the annual hockey grudge match against Minnesota. There also was campus programming on the common cold (aahh-chew), international relations (is this the fishing zone between the U.S. and Canada?) and the mind of a psychopath (Wisconsin’s own Jeffrey Dahmer?).

On July 4, the BTN will air the league’s greatest football games of 2008, plus other football-related programming. Good move. Overall, it was a decent week for the network, which slowly is building its resume as one of the better sports networks on television.

The NFL Network is the reigning repeat champion. No other network outside of Headline News repeats its programming more than the NFL Network. It’s a shame because the NFL Network has so much potential.

During the June 28-July 4 sample week, the NFL Network was fairly predictable, based on past years. Sundays are filled with 90-minute replays from four games during a 2008 weekend From noon Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday, those replays ran 16 times.

The NFL Network’s daily trademark, “Total Access,” is a one-hour news/feature show that airs every weeknight at 6 p.m. Unfortunately, it re-airs and re-airs and re-airs some more. The Monday version aired 10 times. The Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday versions aired 12 times each. That’s way too much programming time to dedicate to one 60-minute show.

The network also re-airs other programming at an alarming rate. Tuesday night, the network showed two 30-minute and one 60-minute episodes of “NFL Game of the Week.” Those shows then re-aired nine more times.

On Monday nights (and usually on the following Saturday), the NFL Network airs a “Classic Game” with its original broadcasters. Unfortunately, many of the classics go back to 2008 or 2007. Since the 1970 merger, there have been 9,061 games NFL games played — 8,680 regular season, 381 postseason.

The NFL Network did schedule a weekend dedicated to its Emmy-winning documentary series “America’s Game.” Beginning at 5 a.m. on July 4, the network will air each episode of its Super Bowl champion series, followed by its “Missing Rings” series. That’s a tremendous idea, but the network should have started it earlier in the week to expose those fans who have yet to see it.

What the NFL Network does, it does well. It just doesn’t do it enough and it is much too repetitive. When Brett Favre returns again expect nothing the network to destroy all of its programming to show his first Packers’ game, the Monday night game following his dad’s death, the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI win and last year’s Jets-Patriots Thursday night game on NFL Network.  The network did it when he retired, when he un-retired and then when he retired again.

Payne makes debut tonight in PTL

June 15, 2009

With fewer teams this year, the Prime Time League looks more competitive and more interesting. Tonight, I’m planning to cover the Mike Gatens Real Estate/McCurry’s (Team No. 4) vs. Imprinted Sportswear/Goodfellow Printing (Team No. 5) matchup.

In real terms, I want to see incoming Iowa freshman Cully Payne run the point for No. 5. He’s playing with future teammates Aaron Fuller and Devan Bawinkel, along with Northern Iowa’s Anthony James, Marc Sonnon and Antonio Jones. The No. 4 team features UNI’s Jordan Eglseder and Brian Haak and Iowa’s Eric May and John Lickliter.

I’m planning to cover all of the PTL games this summer so if you’ve got questions, fire them away.

Iowa men’s hoops seeks return to top 25 in attendance

June 1, 2009
Iowa's Kurt Looby is congratulated by a floor full of fans as the Hawkeyes leave the court after defeating Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Jan. 12, 2008. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Iowa's Kurt Looby is congratulated by a floor full of fans as the Hawkeyes leave the court after defeating Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Jan. 12, 2008. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY – The recent economic downturn only slightly affected Big Ten and national basketball attendance during the 2008-09 season.

According to figures released by the schools and the NCAA, national basketball attendance dipped by an average of 28 fans per game last year. Total attendance for Division I men’s basketball exceeded 27.7 million fans.

The Big Ten led the nation in average attendance for the 33rd straight year, according to the NCAA, with 12,519 fans per game. The Big Ten reported on its Web site that the league averaged 12,490 fans per game.

Overall, Iowa averaged 100 more fans this year (10,861) than during the 2007-08 basketball season. It is way off from the early part of the decade when Iowa averaged a sell-out (15,550). Iowa approached near-record lows in February, averaging less than 9,900 fans a home game. Iowa then dropped ticket prices for its final five home games to $10 each, giving the department a major lift in bodies, although not necessarily the bottom line.

“This past year, it (attendance) actually took a small dip up,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. “So that’s a good sign.”

Iowa ranked No. 34 nationally in attendance, three spots up from No. 37 during the 2007-08 season. From 1978 through 2002, a 25-year period, Iowa ranked no lower than 17th nationally in attendance and finished in the top 10 nine times.

Iowa has started “Project 25,” in its push to boost attendance back into the national top 25. Iowa has not set its ticket prices for next year, but Barta said the school likely will lower the prices.

“Taking into account the economy, taking into account we’re rebuilding our program and getting back to where we want to be, we’re taking a look at lowering some of the ticket prices,” he said.

“When you look at what’s happening nationally, basketball over the last 10 years is in a downward trend. When you look at our season-ticket sales, we have gone through a six- or-seven-year downward trend.”

First-year Cyclone head basketball coach Ken Trickey (plaid suit, center) reacts to action on the floor of the Iowa Fieldhouse in Iowa City in 1974. Iowa won, 77-66. (Gazette photo)

First-year Cyclone head basketball coach Ken Trickey (plaid suit, center) reacts to action on the floor of the UI Field House in Iowa City in 1974. Iowa won, 77-66. (Gazette photo)

According to the Big Ten, four schools saw an annual decline in average overall attendance. Indiana’s overall attendance dropped by 2,545 fans a game, while Ohio State (1,125) and Illinois (1,119) each lost more than 1,000 fans per game in one season. Iowa’s overall attendance declined by 35 fans a game. The league’s overall average fell by 408 fans.

In league play, only three schools reported annual declines. Those schools include Indiana (2,200), Ohio State (1,286) and Illinois (310). Iowa saw its league average increase by 216 fans per game.

The figures do not take into account ticket promotions, such as Iowa dropping prices to $10 per seat – down from $27 and $22 a ticket – for the final five games.

Here’s an annual look at Iowa’s national ranking and average home attendance since 1978:

1978 – No. 16 (11,967); 1979 – No. 15 (12,482); 1980 – No. 11 (13,365); 1981 – No. 13 (13,365); 1982 – No. 12 (13,365); 1983 – No. 8 (14,817); 1984 – No. 8 (15,450); 1985 – No. 8 (15,060); 1986 – No. 9 (14,774); 1987 – No. 12 (13,663).

1988 – No. 10 (15,500); 1989 – No. 9 (15,500); 1990 – No. 12 (15,500); 1991 – No. 13 (14,874); 1992 – No. 13 (15,343); 1993 – No. 10 (15,215); 1994 – No. 9 (15,312); 1995 – No. 12 (15,158); 1996 – No. 11 (15,416); 1997 – No. 10 (14,586)

1998 – No. 14 (13,963); 1999 – No. 17 (14,173); 2000 – No. 13 (15,156); 2001 – No. 12 (15,500); 2002 – No. 12 (15,207); 2003 – No. 20 (13,235); 2004 – No. 23 (12,977); 2005 – No. 22 (11,900); 2006 – No. 25 (12,006); 2007 – No. 29 (12,196); 2008 – No. 37 (10,761); 2009 – No. 34 (10,861).

NOTE: Iowa competed at the UI Field House until 1983 before moving to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Todd Lickliter’s house is for sale in Iowa City, but he’s not moving out of the area

May 29, 2009
1100 N. Dubuque St.

1100 N. Dubuque St.

Iowa men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter’s home is for sale. The home, which is located at 1100 N. Dubuque St., is listed for $1.2 million. Here’s the listing through Lepic-Kroeger Realtors:

However, it appears Lickliter isn’t going to leave the Iowa City area, said Tom Lepic, co-owner of the real estate company.

“They are looking to purchase a different home, and they’ve already found that home,” Lepic said. “They’re just looking to sell theirs now.

“They’re not going anywhere. They’re just moving from one home to another.”

Lickliter and his family are in Greece, along with the Iowa men’s basketball team, following their three-game exhibition tour.

Catching up with future Hawkeye Brennan Cougill

May 22, 2009

DES MOINES — Iowa basketball recruit Brennan Cougill will compete in the shot put at today’s Class 3A state track meet. Then it’s all basketball, all the time.

The 6-foot-9 post from Sioux City Heelan is working on getting stronger and his outside shooting skills just weeks from moving to the Iowa City area. Cougill, Iowa’s Mr. Basketball this year, will compete in the Prime Time League in North Liberty this summer.

“It’s pretty exciting to be coming in,” Cougill said. “I’ve got to come in, and I’ve just got to work hard and put my work ethic out there and just give it 100 percent all the time.”

Cougill, who weighs around 260 pounds, said he’s uncertain if he’ll attend summer classes — ” it kind of depends on what the administration wants us to do.”

Cougill said he was concerned after four players transferred from the Iowa men’s basketball team in the offseason and stayed in contact with Iowa assistant coach Chad Walthall.

“Walthall is usually the guy that usually calls me and talks to me,” Cougill said. “Last time I talked to Lick was official visit, maybe.

“I didn’t call that much, but they were willing to talk if we wanted to talk. My mom pretty much got all that information. I was texting Matt (Gatens) and asked what was going on, and he said things were a little hectic but everything was starting to calm down.”

Cougill scored 28 points in the Class 3A state title game, a 77-42 win against Norwalk. He averaged 18.2 points and 13.3 rebounds his senior year and was the 11th player in state history to score 1,500 points and pull down 1,000 rebounds in a career.

The Iowa basketball team, sans newcomers like Cougill, are headed to Italy on Saturday for a four-game exhibition tour.

Tucker seeks redemption on basketball court

May 19, 2009
Iowa's Anthony Tucker sits on the team's bench during their Big Ten Conference basketball game against Wisconsin Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Tucker missed the second semester of the 2008-09 season due to academically ineligiblity. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa's Anthony Tucker sits on the team's bench during their Big Ten Conference basketball game against Wisconsin Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Tucker missed the second semester of the 2008-09 season due to academic ineligibility. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY – To achieve redemption, one must go through a difficult experience and come back stronger. Anthony Tucker understands that concept.

In a 30-day period he fell ill with mononucleosis, was arrested for public intoxication and lost his eligibility. He takes responsibility for his errors and looks forward to redemption.

“I knew what I did to get myself into this situation and stuff,” he said. “I didn’t need motivation or a success story because it’s going to be my own success story.”

Tucker’s success story begins this weekend. He passed all of his classes and likely will regain his eligibility Wednesday. He’ll travel with Iowa’s seven-player squad to Italy and Greece on a four-game exhibition tour that begins Sunday. It’ll be his first game action as a Hawkeye since mid-January, and it feels way too long for him.

Tucker led Iowa in scoring through the first month of the season. He scored 24 points against West Virginia, tied for the team’s highest-scoring output this season. But he became sick shortly after and played sluggishly in Iowa’s next two games.

Then, on Dec. 7 he was found unconscious in a downtown Iowa City alley after a night of excessive drinking. He was suspended for 12 days and pleaded guilty to public intoxication.

Those incidents were concurrent with academic problems. He passed all of his classes, but a low grade-point-average silenced his eligibility.

“There was one class that I wasn’t sure about,” he said. “I was kind of worried about it, and then I ended up doing fine in that class, but another class came up at the end. I wasn’t worried about not playing; it was more of getting a grade up. I didn’t think it was actually going to happen. I always thought, ‘Wait until the last second and you’ll be fine.’ But I had a feeling halfway (through the semester). It was a change of events, but the same result.

“I put myself in a lot of tough situations which you never want to do. But it happens. And I tried my best to get through, it but unfortunately it was a little bit too much all at once and my play kind of showed that.”

Tucker said he and Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter spoke often about his eligibility status in the interim period between semesters, calling it “an understanding.” Tucker entered games late against Minnesota and Michigan, hoping to either provide a spark offensively or save other players’ strengths.

“Obviously he’s not going to take time away from the guys he’s sure he’s going to have throughout the season,” Tucker said.

Tucker became ineligible in January and sat out the second semester. He practiced every day with Iowa, donning a different colored jersey than the starters. He hit the weight room four days a week and gained 15 pounds of muscle. He’s quicker with his feet and still has his venomous outside shot.

Lickliter praised Tucker for turning a tough situation into a positive. Lickliter said Tucker has “done a terrific job” in the classroom.

“You get bitter or better, and he chose to get better,” Lickliter said. “He did individual instruction. He went into the weight room four times a week. He worked hard in the classroom. I’m really proud of Anthony Tucker.

“Let’s not forget how well he was playing before semester break.”

Tucker averaged 20 points a game through Iowa’s first five games. He started eight of 14 games and ended up with a 10.4 scoring average, still among Iowa’s best. He’ll move from off-guard to point this season, especially after three point guards left the team following the season.

Tucker said he now knows not to take anything for granted. He’s matured through the process. There are success stories like Iowa football players Amari Spievey and Shonn Greene who overcame academic ineligibility to achieve on-field success. But asking them about their redemption isn’t Tucker’s style.  

“I knew I was going to get through it; it was a matter of buckling down and doing it,” he said. “I didn’t really go to anybody for advice of asking them what it was like because it didn’t matter to me. I was going to do it regardless.”

Through the grades, the arrest and the sickness, Tucker achieved his own form of redemption just by stepping on the basketball court. But that’s not how he defines success. That’s another story for another day.