Wisconsin announces home-and-away series with Alabama as Iowa fans look on with envy and frustration

Former Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson dives for yards in last year's victory over Iowa State. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - If Wisconsin can do it, then why can’t Iowa?

That is the question being asked by Iowa fans ever since it was announced on Monday that Wisconsin and Alabama have signed to play a home-and-away series in football in 2024 and 2025.

It is the same question that Iowa fans have been asking for quite some time, even though they know, or they should know, the answer by now.

Iowa’s situation is different than Wisconsin, both on and off the field.

The Badgers are more relevant than Iowa right now in football, and have been for a while.

Over the last 10 seasons, only seven FBS teams have won more than 100 games, and two of them are Alabama and Wisconsin.

The Badgers also have won six of the last seven games against Iowa,13 of the last 20 dating back to 1997 and three Rose Bowls since 1994.

So if you’re the bluest of the blue blood programs in college football, as is the case with Alabama, you get to pick and choose your opponents, and the Badgers currently have more appeal than Iowa.

And more scheduling flexibility, which brings up the biggest reason why Iowa is unlikely to schedule a home-and-away series with a national power anytime soon.

And you know where I’m going with this.

I’m heading right to Ames where Iowa will be on Sept. 14th when it faces the Cyclones in the third game of the season.

The two teams have met on an annual basis since 1977 and it was announced in June that the series has been extended through the 2025 season, much to the dismay of some Iowa fans who have grown tired of the annual showdown and frustrated with the lack of scheduling flexibility that comes with it.

My stand has always been that Iowa and Iowa State should play on an annual basis because why not celebrate and promote what we have in our low-population state, which is two power five football programs?

Wisconsin can’t make that claim, nor can Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Colorado, Louisiana, New York and the Dakotas, just to name a few states.

Iowa's annual showdown with Iowa State is unique and impressive for a state that has a population of just 3.156 million. It's even more impressive this season with both teams expected to have winning records.

Unlike many of the past seasons, a victory over Iowa State would actually carry some weight this season.

But facing the Cyclones every year also comes with a price, that being a lack of scheduling flexibility.

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta told reporters at Big Ten media day that he is looking for ways to shakeup the nonconference schedule.

In addition to Iowa State, Iowa will face Miami of Ohio and Middle Tennessee State in the 2019 nonconference schedule, along with playing nine conference games.

“I am looking at some unique opportunities out a ways that might be even bigger than (games like Miami) to our fans,” Barta said. “We’ve played some games here in Chicago in Soldier Field. I haven’t yet found one that fits, but I wouldn’t be against a neutral game if we could find the right fit.”

Iowa last played in the Chicago Bears’ stadium in 2012, defeating Northern Illinois. The next opening on the schedule is in 2024.

Finding the right fit is difficult because most power five teams would prefer to play a home-and-away series than just one game at a neutral site.

And there is always the Iowa State factor to consider because Iowa plays in Ames every other year.

Iowa always wants to play seven home games for both financial and competitive reasons. So there is little to no flexibility in seasons in which Iowa plays in Ames.

But even if Iowa did end the series with Iowa State, I’m still not convinced that Barta would replace the Cyclones with a Notre Dame or Alabama or Georgia, partly because I’m not convinced those schools would want to do it, and because I don’t think Iowa would be crazy about facing teams of that caliber on the road, especially early in the season.

I would love to see Iowa and Notre Dame play at Soldier Field for both personal and business reasons, but can’t see it happening under the current circumstances.

Some fans will say that Iowa is stuck with facing Iowa State, and the nonconference schedule suffers as a result.

And while there is some truth to that, it goes beyond just blaming the Cyclones.

Wisconsin, with its sustained success, has earned the right to face mighty Alabama in a home-and-away series.

The Badgers also don’t have another power five team in their state to complicate things.

Fair or not, those are the facts.