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‘Big Four’ is actually a ‘Reduced Four’

This news story was published on April 13, 2012.
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Mike Hlas, CR Gazette –

Iowa and Iowa State win. Drake and Northern Iowa lose.

No surprise there. After decades of quietly and not-so-quietly wishing they didn’t play both Drake and UNI every year, and have to play at Drake one year and UNI the next, Iowa and Iowa State have concocted an annual “Big Four” event in Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Center. This year’s debut of the event, which will exist for at least four years, will be Dec. 15.

It is not a tournament. It is a doubleheader.

What it means is this: No more homecourt games against the Hawkeyes and Cyclones for the Panthers and Bulldogs. And, Iowa and ISU will only play Drake and UNI every other year.

This year, Iowa will play UNI and Iowa State plays Drake. Iowa will play Drake the following year, and ISU will face UNI. The alternating will continue each year.

Iowa won’t play Iowa State in the Big Four. Those two teams will continue their series, going back-and-forth from Iowa City to Ames each year.

So, up to 16,110 people will come to Wells Fargo for one day each year. Instead of Drake and UNI getting a guaranteed big home crowd each year by hosting either Iowa or Iowa State, they’ll settle for their piece of the pie from this. Given that ticket prices will range from $25 up to $70, maybe they won’t lose much financially. Maybe.

But the prestige part of losing an annual home game against a state team from either the Big Ten or Big 12? The fun and excitement that has come to those schools each year from a visit by Iowa State or Iowa? That hurts.

It’s not the problem of the bigger schools, right? I guess not.

Besides, it wasn’t much fun for Iowa State to lose to both Drake and UNI last season. Had the Cyclones just won one of those two games, they might have been a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament instead of a No. 8, and could have avoided playing Kentucky in Louisville in the second round of the NCAAs.

It wasn’t a joyous deal for Iowa to absorb an 80-60 beating at UNI, either. Then again, the Panthers are the only men’s team from Iowa to have reached the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in the last 10 years.

Iowa is 5-5 against Northern Iowa and 7-3 vs. Drake over the last 10 seasons. Iowa State is 6-4 vs. Drake and 4-6 vs. UNI in the same period.

So we’ll see if this freed-up date for Iowa and ISU leads to the two programs opening up their schedules to play marquee opponents from elsewhere in Basketball Land, or if it just means another date to add one more of the seemingly endless series of nonentities that pass through Iowa City, Ames, and most other major-college towns each November and December.

UNI and Drake had only one choice in this deal: Take the Big 4 agreement. Otherwise, they’d be done playing the Hawkeyes and Cyclones altogether.

Maybe we just got spoiled from all four of our Division I teams playing each other every year. That’s not the way basketball business is conducted in most states. Illinois didn’t play Bradley last season. Indiana didn’t play Indiana State. Michigan didn’t play Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan or Detroit.

Wisconsin did play Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay, and the Milwaukee game was on the road. What were the Badgers thinking?


Here is the press release on the Big Four:

DES MOINES — The state of Iowa’s four NCAA Division I institutions will stage the “Big Four Classic,” a men’s college basketball doubleheader at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, in December in each of the next four years, the institutions and the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau announced today.

The inaugural Big Four Classic will be staged on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, with Iowa State playing Drake and Iowa facing UNI in back-to-back games in the state of Iowa’s premier special events center. Game times have not been finalized, but each contest will be televised live.

“We are proud to host these four outstanding men’s college basketball teams at Wells Fargo Arena. The Big Four Classic will bring friends of the institutions and fans of their teams from across the state to Des Moines for an exciting event the entire Iowa sports community will enjoy,” said Greg Edwards, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This year’s match-ups will be repeated in 2014. Iowa State will play UNI and Iowa will square off against Drake in 2013 and again in 2015. The four schools will alternate serving as event host. Iowa will serve as host to the inaugural event.

The announcement comes on the heels of a very successful 2011-12 season for all four schools. Each posted a winning record and advanced to postseason play last season.

The Cyclones earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, registered a 23-11 record and finished tied for third in the Big 12. Fred Hoiberg’s squad defeated Connecticut in its first round NCAA Tournament game before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the South Region.

UNI and Iowa both were extended at-large invitations to the National Invitation Tournament. UNI completed its season with an overall record of 20-14 and a 9-9 mark against Missouri Valley opponents. Ben Jacobson’s Panthers defeated Saint Joseph’s and lost to Drexel in their NIT games.

Iowa completed its season with an overall record of 18-17 that included an 8-10 record against Big Ten opponents. Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes defeated Dayton and lost to Oregon in their NIT games.

Drake completed its 2011-12 season with an 18-16 overall record and accepted an invitation to the CIT, where the Bulldogs defeated North Dakota before losing to Rice. Mark Phelps’ Bulldogs were 9-9 against Missouri Valley opponents in 2012.

Each institution will have an equal number of game tickets to distribute, ranging in price from $25 to $70 each. Tickets will be good for admission to both games of the doubleheader and will be made available first to each institution’s season ticket customers and then to other fans of their men’s basketball program. Tickets not sold by the institutions will be placed on sale for the general public through the Wells Fargo Arena box office in early October.

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