By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa men’s basketball team was clinging to a 77-70 lead over Nebraska on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when a media timeout was called with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left to play.
Iowa had led by 11 points earlier in the second half, but the Cornhuskers had cut into the lead and shifted the momentum ever so slightly in a game where both teams were desperate for a win.
And yet, some fans started heading for the exits during the media timeout.
It wasn’t a lot of fans, but enough that it was noticeable and unfortunate, and kind of strange, although, early exits have been happening for a while at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
I’ve been covering the Iowa beat since the early 1990s, and throughout that time, early exits have been part of the landscape.
An early exit is when a fan leaves his or her seat and climbs to the top of the concourse where they catch their breath and then either leave the arena or watch the remainder of the game, while also getting a jump on traffic.
It would make sense to do an early exit from some of the lopsided nonconference games, but to perform an early exit with nearly four minutes remaining against a Big Ten border rival that was making a late push in a must win for both teams makes absolutely no sense.
Iowa hung on to defeat Nebraska 93-84 for its first Big Ten victory, and home-court advantage certainly played a key role.
It was just disappointing to see so many early exits under the circumstances.
There still was nearly four minutes left to play and Iowa led only by single digits and some fans were not only planning their exit strategy, they were carrying it out.
This tradition isn’t unique to Iowa, but it sure seems more noticeable at Iowa compared to most of the other Big Ten arenas.
It’s hard to judge a place like Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center because the Nittany Lions draw so few fans in the first place.
But Iowa had an announced attendance of 11,782 for the Nebraska game and there were at least 10,000 in the seats.
So you can’t help but notice when dozens of spectators start heading for the exits, especially with nearly four minutes left to play in a game that still was undecided at that point.
I felt bad for the Iowa players, even though, they probably didn’t even notice because they were too wrapped up in the game.
But imagine turning on your television and seeing fans for the home team heading to the exits in the closing minutes of a pivotal and yet-to-be-decided conference game.
It’s just a bad look.
The view on television doesn’t show the fans stopping on the concourse to watch the remainder of the game, so to the viewer, it looks like they’re just leaving early.
And again, that’s a bad look in an arena where the game-day setup and atmosphere already leaves much to be desired.
The race to the top of the concourse has become a habit that some fans can’t break or don’t want to break.
It’s as much a part of the game-day experience at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the Kiss Cam and the Burrito Lift.
And that’s unfortunate because leaving early is not something to celebrate.
The layout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena deserves part of the blame for the early exits because climbing those stairs is a workout that some fans probably dread and just want to get it over with.
I had grown numb to early exits until seeing groups of fans leave early on Sunday.
Most of them probably watched the rest of the game from the top of the concourse, but they still left behind an empty seat that was closer to courtside.
I hear from fans all the time about how sterile and stale the environment is at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and they mostly blame Iowa officials for not connecting with the fans, and for not fixing some of what are perceived as structural flaws, including not having the students sitting courtside.
But there is plenty of blame to go around in this case, with early exits sharing some of it.
Perhaps the only thing worse than leaving early is telling fans in front to sit down during key moments when it should be just the opposite.
The fans standing should be telling the fans sitting to stand up because we’re talking about a basketball game and not a sewing class.
We’re talking about creating a hostile environment that could prove to be the difference in some key games.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena can rock when all of the pieces fall into place, as was the case on Sunday with both teams nationally ranked, but also desperate for a win.
The game was drenched in drama and intrigue, and yet, some fans still headed for the exits with nearly four minutes remaining in a tight game.
Whether they stopped on the concourse to watch the rest of the game doesn’t really matter because the image of fans leaving early already was etched in my mind.
And my response is to ask, what’s the hurry?