By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unlike some others, Jordan Bohannon wants to play Northern Iowa and Drake on their respective home courts.
Iowa’s sweet-shooting point guard wants to face the challenge of playing in a hostile environment from instate because he knows it would be beneficial for his team and because it would be fun and exciting.
“I think it would be pretty cool, actually, to start playing games at UNI and start going to Drake and start opening up a little bit,” Bohannon said Monday on the KCJJ/AllHawkeyes radio show. “I don’t know if it would help the fan base going there. But it would be cool just being an Iowa kid to go to other places because I’ve never played at UNI and I’ve never played at Drake yet.”
Time is running out on Bohannon as he enters his junior season with neither Drake nor Northern Iowa on the schedule
It hasn’t been easy for Iowa to win at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, but that is all the more reason to embrace the challenge of playing there in Bohannon’s opinion.
Iowa has lost five of its last six games at the McLeod Center, the most recent setback being an 80-60 drubbing on Dec. 6, 2011.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was ejected from that game, and the fact that Iowa hasn’t been back to the McLeod Center since then hardly seems like a coincidence.
The Hy-Vee Classic was started in 2012 as a way to keep the instate rivalries sort of intact, but also as a way for Iowa and Iowa State to avoid having to play at Drake and Northern Iowa every other season.
But now that event has run its course and we’re left to wonder when or if Iowa will ever face Northern Iowa or Drake again in men’s basketball.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta didn’t rule it out when interviewed by the Des Moines Register at an I-Club event at the Wakonda Golf Course in Des Moines on Monday.
But Barta also doesn’t seem very interesting in scheduling Northern Iowa or Drake anytime soon.
Iowa’s reason for opting out of the Hy-Vee Classic apparently is due to limited scheduling options caused partly by the Big Ten expanding to 20 conference games this coming season.
Iowa also plays Iowa State every year, along with one game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and one game in the Gavitt Games, although the Gavitt Games isn’t an annual occurrence.
Throw in a preseason tournament like the 2K Classic, which includes four games, and that adds up to 27 games in what is typically a 31-game regular-season schedule.
So yes, the options are limited, but four games still leaves room for Northern Iowa and Drake.
Barta said the changes that have occurred with scheduling prevents him from automatically being able to put Drake and Northern Iowa on Iowa’s schedule, but that really isn’t the case.
There should always be enough available spots in Iowa’s nonconference schedule to face Drake and Northern Iowa on a home-and-away basis, which is how Bohannon would like to do it because he embraces competition and because he respects both programs.
The fact that Northern Iowa has dominated Iowa at the McLeod Center makes Bohannon want to play there even more.
Because he’s a competitor.
And because Bohannon holds the instate schools in higher regard, especially Northern Iowa where his older brother, Matt Bohannon, was a standout shooting guard. The Panthers were also one of the first schools to offer Jordan a scholarship, and more times than not under head coach Ben Jacobson, they're pretty good, and sometimes real good.
Nothing against teams like Bryant University, Savannah State and Alabama State, but Iowa gains nothing from playing them besides a meaningless victory over a money-seeking opponent that has no chance of winning.
There have been too many opponents like that on Iowa's nonconference schedule for a while now.
Iowa fans are definitely divided on this issue, just like they are with facing Iowa State every year in football. Some just don’t want to do it because they feel Iowa is in a no-win situation facing lesser opponents from instate, or they blame the three other instate schools for hurting Iowa’s scheduling flexibility.
There is no right or wrong in this debate because fans have a right to support and believe whatever they want.
But I’d be surprised if all of Bohannon’s teammates didn’t feel the same way as him about facing Drake and Northern Iowa. Athletes want to be pushed and challenged, and one way to do that is by playing in hostile road environments against opponents that want nothing more than to beat you.
Nobody seemed to care about facing Iowa State in football or Drake and Northern Iowa in men’s basketball when Iowa dominated all three series.
They became unpopular after the Cyclones started winning in football about 20 years ago and when Northern Iowa State started winning in basketball in 2001.
The schedule changes then became a convenient excuse to drop the home-and-away series against Drake and Northern Iowa in men's basketball.
Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said he would consider playing Drake and Northern Iowa again, but only in Ames.
That would be better than nothing, but whatever happened to embracing a challenge and helping a fellow in-state institution?
Wouldn’t you rather have Iowa throw a bone to the Bulldogs and the Panthers than some obscure school from far away that has no chance of winning, or even being competitive for that matter?
Jordan Bohannon would.