Interesting travel story of the year No. 1: Men’s hoops at Ohio State, football at Outback

June 11, 2009

schottenstein_centerThe wildest trip I took this season included seven cities in less than four days, more stops than former Miss California Carrie Prejean on a marriage preservation tour. There was anxiety and enjoyment. It included both Iowa football and basketball.

I originally slotted my basketball trips in late September. That included Iowa’s game at Ohio State, which was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 31. Yep, that’s right, New Year’s Eve. Well, I didn’t want to ring in 2009 in Columbus, Ohio so I scheduled a late-evening flight back to Cedar Rapids. I didn’t expect Iowa’s football team would make a New Year’s Day bowl game so I figured I’d just stick to basketball that day.

In early December, Iowa was selected to play in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 1. I was interested in joining Gazette comrades Marc Morehouse and Mike Hlas in covering the event so I had to rearrange the flight pattern.

The best way I could get from Columbus to Tampa was via Charlotte. I had to leave Columbus at 7:50 p.m. for that flight, but with a 4 p.m. start, making that flight was difficult to say the least. But I tried it anyway.

I flew from Cedar Rapids to Chicago and then Columbus and arrived around midnight on Dec. 30. I staffed a basketball game that appeared to be a blowout in the first half with Ohio State leading 30-15. Then Iowa mounted a major comeback and took the lead in the second half. Needless to say, I was stressed. I wrote most of my story through the game. Iowa had one chance left but freshman Matt Gatens’ last-second three-pointer went astray and Ohio State won 68-65. Had Gatens, who had a great game, hit that shot, the game would have went into overtime and I would have missed my flight. Instead, I made my flight with a few minutes to spare.

I flew to Charlotte first then landed in Tampa around 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. Southern cities celebrate the New Year with fireworks, something that surprised me until I realized it’s about 50 degrees warmer there than in Iowa. So it was kind of cool to fly above the fireworks. On the flight to Tampa a depressed couple lamented that they had to kiss each other on the airplane serenaded with a New Year’s countdown by the pilot. Too bad for them.

staduim2By the time I got to the hotel after a stressful trip, it was 1:30 a.m. I arrived at Raymond James Stadium by 8:30 a.m. I watched Iowa beat the living daylights out of South Carolina. I relaxed for a few hours that night before waking at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. Eastern flight. I was entertained by the dozens of hungover Iowa fans at the airport, including an old high school friend who hadn’t been to bed since arriving on Dec. 31. Then it was on to Atlanta, St. Louis and then Cedar Rapids.

Sportswriters often get hit with comments like “aww, that must be rough” when we travel to cover teams. But none of those people had to staff a basketball game and make a flight within four hours away with a basketball arena 10 miles from the airport. But getting around one day in 70-degree weather in Tampa made it all worth it.


Iowa could kill media guides to save trees and cash

June 2, 2009

08-fb-mg-cover-300IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has not decided whether or not to eliminate team media guides for the upcoming 2009-2010 sports season.

Big Ten schools Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin all chose to eliminate media guides for next year. According to a joint press release, Michigan and Ohio State said the move will save their departments a combined $250,000 next year. Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez said the move will save his athletic department up to $200,000, according to reports.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said Tuesday the school will make a decision quickly and “before the deadline to print.” Big Ten schools have brought media guides to the league’s annual football media days in late July. Barta said the school has considered the move for several months.

“Whether or not we eliminate them, I’m not certain yet,” he said. “We haven’t made any final decisions. but we did talk about ways we might be able to reduce them and use the Internet, use an electronic replacement for those.

“We met about it the last couple of weeks, so we’re going to have to make a decision pretty soon.”

Barta said it’s possible the school may choose to keep some of the media guides but eliminate others. Conserving paper and sustainability also are factors in Iowa’s choice to keep the guides or eliminate them.

Media guides formerly displayed vital information for reporters. In 2004, Missouri’s football media guide was 614 pages and had four pages dedicated to red-shirt freshmen. In 2005, the NCAA limited football media guides to 208 pages, and schools chose to use the guides as a recruiting tool and less of a history book.

Barta said the department will examine how eliminating the guide might affect recruiting before making a final decision.

“One of the ways many of the young people we recruit now when we talk to them, they’re really going to Web sites, Internet sites,” Barta said. “So that appears to be where the trend is going anyway. So that’s what we’re trying to determine. Certainly we don’t want to do anything to damage our recruiting.

“If you look at there’s a lot more interest in going green in conserving paper, etc. The world has certainly changed a lot electronically and the Internet from five years ago and economically things have changed as well.

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.

Big Ten football fans like Cotton as next league bowl

May 28, 2009
Although this building won't host the annual Cotton Bowl any longer, many fans want the bowl to select a Big Ten team, according to an online poll.

Although this building won't host the annual Cotton Bowl any longer, many fans want the bowl to select a Big Ten team, according to an online poll.

It’s hardly a scientific poll, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one today online.

On this blog, readers were asked which non-Big Ten bowl would they like added to the Big Ten lineup. Overwhelmingly, readers chose the Cotton Bowl.

Forty-nine percent (213 votes) of the 435 votes cast picked the Dallas-area bowl. San Diego’s Holiday  Bowl finished second with 29 percent (128 votes). Others receiving votes include the Gator Bowl (10 percent) in Jacksonville, Fla., the Atlanta-based Peach Bowl (OK, so it’s called the Chick-fil-A Bowl) with 7 percent and Memphis’ Liberty Bowl (3 percent). The category “Other” also received 3 percent.

The Cotton Bowl has more tradition than any bowl outside of the Bowl Championship Series, crowning a national champion or dislodging the top-ranked team seven times. But it moved to also-ran status in 1995 with the Bowl Coalition and a year later with the break-up of the Southwest Conference. It now hosts the Big 12 runner-up against usually the SEC’s fourth-best team.

Five of the Big Ten’s seven bowl agreements expire after the upcoming football season, including contracts with the Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs and Motor City bowls. The Big Ten has four years left on its contracts with the Rose and Insight bowls.

The Cotton Bowl’s agreements with the SEC and Big 12 expire after the upcoming season as well. It’s unlikely the bowl ever will sever ties with the Big 12. The Big 12 includes four former Southwest Conference schools and the SWC champion anchored the bowl from 1941 through 1996.

The Cotton Bowl would like to rejoin college football’s top-tiered bowl games as a BCS member. The bowl is leaving its long-time venue in Dallas for a $1 billion palace with a retractable roof in Arlington this year. The open-air venue (which saw its share of frigid weather and snowstorms) was one reason why it was left out of the BCS nearly 15 years ago. (The other, some say, is athletic directors like playing golf in Phoenix with no chance of rain/snow rather than crossing their fingers and hoping for the best in Dallas.)

The league has expressed concern with Orlando’s stadium, which hosts the Capital One and Champs bowls. The Citrus Bowl is 73 years old and a $175 million renovation plan has fallen by the wayside during the current recession.

The Capital One Bowl boasts the highest payout of any non-BCS bowl at $4.25 million per team, while the Cotton Bowl pays around $3.3 million. But the Cotton Bowl features tradition and recruiting possibilities. It’s possible if the Cotton Bowl sweetens the pot near Capital One Bowl levels, the Big Ten might jump at moving its second-place team to Dallas against the Big 12’s No. 2 team. Some years, like last year, that might mean Texas Tech vs. Michigan State. Other years, that could pit Michigan vs. Oklahoma.

Coincidentally, only one Big Ten school has played in the Cotton Bowl. Ohio State beat Texas A&M 28-12 on Jan. 1, 1987.Penn State had played in three Cotton Bowls, but each appearance came before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.

The Holiday Bowl featured a Big Ten team from 1986 through 1994. Iowa played in three Holiday Bowls in that span, winning two games by a point each (39-38 against San Diego State; 20-19 against Wyoming) and tying Brigham Young 13-13 in the other. Iowa also has played in two Peach Bowls (a 28-22 win against Tennessee in 1982; a 28-23 loss to North Carolina State in 1988) and one Gator Bowl (a 14-6 loss in 1983 to Florida). Iowa never has played in the Liberty Bowl, which last hosted a Big Ten team in 1994. Illinois lost the 1982 Liberty Bowl 21-15 to Alabama featuring legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in his final game.

Iowa nearly played in the 1986 Cotton Bowl, mainly because of then-Coach Hayden Fry’s relationship with bowl officials. Had Iowa lost its final game and not won the Big Ten title, Cotton Bowl officials planned to offer Iowa the slot against Texas A&M. Instead, Iowa beat Minnesota and claimed a Rose Bowl berth. The Cotton Bowl selected Auburn and its Heisman Trophy running back Bo Jackson.

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.

Ferentz contract not finalized, ‘no decision’ on son’s status

May 13, 2009
University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz talks about the design of the brace that quarterback Drew Tate has been fitted with to protect his injured left hand at his weekly press conference Tuesday, October 31, 2006 in Iowa City. Ferentz said expected Tate to start Saturday's game unless something unexpected developed in practice this week.

University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz talks about the design of the brace that quarterback Drew Tate has been fitted with to protect his injured left hand at his weekly press conference, October 31, 2006 in Iowa City.

Iowa and football coach Kirk Ferentz have yet to finalize the seven-year contract extension that was announced three months ago.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said he and Ferentz have spoken about the contract recently, and there’s no concern that the deal might fall through.

“The honest answer is when he was going through recruiting, we really just set it aside,” Barta said. “We talked about it a couple of times over the last several weeks. It’s one of those things, we already know we’re going to do it, we’ve already agreed in principle on what we’re going to do, we just haven’t committed it to a contract.

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