We’ve certainly learned many different things over the past 48 hours, none more important than the fact that Iowa State will survive this whole ordeal and remain in a top-tier conference. We also learned that journalism is all but dead, and there is really no reason to follow a developing story day-by-day and hour-by-hour, as what’s being reported probably doesn’t accurately reflect reality. It seems few journalists and media persons actually research a story on their own anymore. Instead, they sit back and wait for someone else to “post” or “tweet” something, then they regurgitate it. If we’re lucky, these paid professionals may even put a bit of their own spin on the story.
On a more personal level, I learned that I shouldn’t allow the national media to convince me of something that doesn’t seem to make much sense. As this story was unfolding, I allowed the media to convince me that if Nebraska left the conference, Texas would follow suit and the conference would close up shop. This never made sense to me, and I shared that feeling with several friends and family members. Why would Nebraska’s departure suddenly convince Texas that it would be best to relinquish their stranglehold on the Big 12, especially when the TV money was going to follow them regardless of conference affiliation? It never made sense. Nevertheless, I bought into that line of thinking, and even partially regurgitated that prediction in my previous blog post. Live and learn, I guess.
But the learning cannot stop there. Most everything seems to have worked out in the end, but let’s be frank. Iowa State really had nothing to do with it. For the most part, Iowa State was nothing more than an afterthought in this whole ordeal. The Cyclones were rarely mentioned in any realignment speculation, and when we were it was usually as one of the teams that would be left out in the cold. We were along for the ride and had to come to terms with one of the most helpless realizations in life: the realization that you do not control your own fate. It was a wild ride, but we did survive after all, and there are lessons to be learned by the ISU administration, coaches, and fans.
For the most part, I believe that the current administration “gets it.” They understand that there needs to be a top-to-bottom commitment to winning from both the athletic and academic sectors of the university in order to succeed. We have that in Pollard and Geoffroy for perhaps the first time in Iowa State’s history. So what changes now that the conference is sticking together? In my opinion, the administration now has the ability to capitalize on that extreme angst that existed within the fanbase up until about 24 hours ago. Since day one, Pollard has been trying to sell his “Next Big Step.” While there have been both good and bad decisions made along the way, Pollard has never relented in his quest. Now, with the fear fresh in our minds, Pollard can hammer home exactly what could happen the next time realignment comes to the Big 12’s doorstep.
Pollard has always rubbed a small segment of the fanbase the wrong way given how hard he has pushed since arriving in Ames. He wasn’t happy with the status quo, and he’s done everything he can to rouse Iowa State fans out of their collective comfort zone. But now is the time to push even harder. While Iowa Staters make up a tremendously loyal fanbase, especially considering the minimal success that has been achieved historically, there is still an abundance of untapped resources. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg proposition, but for the most part, you get what you pay for in college athletics. It’s a business, and Iowa State fans can’t expect filet mignon at meatloaf prices. Now is the time to pony up (within your means, of course), or risk being left behind the next time around. If in the end you decide that you don’t want to have any skin (i.e. dollars) in the game, keep your complaints to yourself.
I see these recent developments as an exciting new opportunity for Iowa State. Not that we weren’t on the right path with Pollard and Geoffroy, but now is a perfect time to reenergize the fanbase and recommit to that next big step. Let’s grow the Cyclone Club and the season ticket base. Let’s pay our assistant coaches at a competitive level. Let’s push hard to bowl in the south endzone and continue to improve all facilities. If we don’t want to be permanently confined to the kids table of college athletics, we need to grow up as a university and convince the nation that we’re ready to sit with the adults. And if the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that there is clearly a lot of convincing to be done. At the end of the day, the coaches and players still have to win, but the fans and the administration can do a lot to put them in the best possible position to do so.
It won’t be easy. This new 10-team conference will present a lot of challenges in the “big two” sports. In football, the conference will get rid of the divisional format and play a 9-game conference season in which Iowa State will play each team once. This means we’ll play Texas and Oklahoma every year. But it also means we’ll play Baylor every year. In basketball, the two worst teams over the past decade just left the conference. (I shudder to think what the McDermott era would have been like without Nebraska and Colorado on the schedule.) We will likely play a home-and-home with each team, creating an 18-game conference schedule. While the schedules will be nice and tidy, they’ll also be more challenging.
But there are other, more positive implications of going to a 10-team conference. Related to the scheduling issue, the elimination of the football championship game will allow the regular season to be stretched out. This is good news for Iowa State, who hasn’t enjoyed the benefits of an off-week since the 2005-06 season. Chances are every team will now get a week off at some point during the season to heal and work some kinks out of the gameplan. Also related to scheduling, with one fewer conference football game being played each week, it’s more likely that most, if not all, of Iowa State’s games will be televised. The importance of this additional exposure cannot be overstated.
On the recruiting front, it’s unclear exactly what the implications will be, but I think it’s safe to assume that Nebraska’s approach to recruiting will change somewhat. The Huskers currently have 26 Texans on the roster and five more in their incoming recruiting class. I’m guessing that mom and dad down in Garland, Texas won’t be as eager to send their boy to Lincoln when the trips to Austin, College Station, Lubbock, and Waco are being replaced by trips to Minneapolis, Champaign, East Lansing, and Bloomington. Nebraska will lose out on some southern athletes as a result of their move to the Big 10. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Iowa State will gobble those players up, but the Cyclones should benefit from some amount of trickle down within the new Big 12.
And, of course, there is the financial angle. Iowa State will benefit tremendously from the new TV deal that will eventually come as a result of the recommitted conference. Actual figures won’t be available until a deal is finalized, but it appears as if Iowa State will at least double its current TV revenue. While the revenue may not be shared equally within the conference, the initial boost should bring Iowa State to a level that is very respectable when compared to other BCS schools. And if the new deal contains inflation factors of some sort, the revenues should remain competitive throughout the life of the contract.
It’s going to be fun to see how things unfold in this new 10-team conference. Regardless of what’s being said, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some new teams could be added in the future, but all indications are that the conference members are happy with ten for now. As for the name, my guess is the conference will stick with the Big 12 label. I don’t think you can throw away a brand simply because a couple of schools decided to walk away. It may be a little awkward, but the Big 10 had 11 members for almost two decades, so the label doesn’t necessarily have to match the product. It’s about brand name, not educating Joe Fan on how many teams there are in each conference.
I was tempted end this post with a parting word for all of the Hawk fans and the Hawk-slanted media who couldn’t wait to throw dirt on Iowa State’s grave, but I want to keep this clean. Besides, I’m confident I have exactly zero Hawkeye readers as the average Hawk fan couldn’t understand or tolerate this beacon of logic and virtue known as “Eye of the Storm.” So instead, I’ll leave my fellow Cyclone fans with some lyrics from the hair metal band Cinderella, who sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Fortunately for Cyclone fans it was only almost gone. Now it’s time to do our part to make sure it doesn’t almost happen again.