On Campus: The Dog Days

Let's face it; the summer has reached that strenuous middle point. It's a struggle to find things to entertain ourselves in the world of sporting activity. There are no college sports in season, the best storyline in baseball is of the resurgent Tigers (who have about as much star power as a movie on the Lifetime Network.)

The six week World Cup escapade is over and guys like Trevor Immelman and Geoff Ogilvie are winning PGA golf tournaments. Color me unimpressed.

 

 ESPN is in stage 7 panic mode, as they are forced to give large portions of their programming to the "Ultimate Depth Chart" which I firmly believe is an excuse by the boys in Bristol to torture America with Mark Schlereth's thoughts on the Jets wide receivers. The Jets, apparently, have the 27th rated receiving corps according to Schlereth, just edging out the Titans. The Titans are clearly at least #24, come on now Markie Mark. I imagine tuning in tomorrow and seeing this on ESPN's promo: "Next up on SportsCenter: 4 year olds fight over Legos; Johnny beats Susie in Horse after executing the infamous shot from the knees with eyes closed; and Stephen A. Smith on why he thinks Allen Iverson should run for Congress." Needless to say, it's not an easy time to keep entertained.

 

The news on the Iowa sports scene is just as barren. I think everybody is taking a refreshing power nap after the exhausting three month stretch. For a good solid three months, the four big state schools had a PR war of Bush-Kerry like proportions. Jamie Pollard threw enough media punches to knock out Joe Frazier. I'm pretty sure all of the local news stations set up stationary cots in the Jacobson building. From Morgan, to McDermott, to Cael, to Robertson, to Kindler, to the BUS, to expansion, to billboards, to Stinson, Blalock, Taggart and Degand; the news never stopped. It has all been a blur.

 

Iowa, not to be outdone, had their own counter punches with the Kinnick renovation, to hiring Brands, to Bowlsby departing, to making Ferentz the highest paid state employee ever in the 160 year history of Iowa (sorry couldn't resist), to extending Alford and Bluder, firing basketball assistants and hiring their new AD in Barta.

 

Drake hired a new AD.

 

UNI has a new basketball coach.

 

It has reached a point where you expect to see that the Central College coach cured the common cold or the Simpson coach climbed Mt. Everest in tomorrow's paper. Heck, that's probably the only way they would even make the back page of the sports section.     

 

We are living in the age of college sports in the state of Iowa. Never has there been such a flurry of information regarding the athletic departments of the state schools in a period of time. They have a strangle hold on the people of this state. And it's great to see. Because, let's be honest, who wants to hear about the CIETC scandal all summer?

 

There are several reasons for this recent spike of interest. First and foremost, Iowa State and Iowa have both enjoyed unprecedented success on the football field at the same time during this century. Their combined winning percentage this century is 58 % (combined record of 87-62). Compare that with these two "big-time" states:

 

Florida (Florida, FSU, Miami, etc.): 61 %  

Ohio (Ohio State, Ohio, Toledo, etc.): 55 %   

 

The state of Iowa has in fact become one of the big boys in the college football world. No longer is Iowa State resigned to be the little brother. They have become noticed not only on an in-state basis, but slowly they are being recognized nationally. Iowa State has out-grown the "beating Iowa as the only positive" era. They now have their sights on loftier goals and their Big 12 brethren are taking note. Nobody in the Big 12 marks down ISU as an easy W like they once did. The only Big 12 schools ISU hasn't defeated in the last four years are Texas and Oklahoma. And several of those wins came on the road, something which was unheard of in the ‘90s. Iowa State has picked up eight conference road wins in the last six years. Not great. But, the Cyclones had zero conference road wins in an eight year stretch from 1991-1999.  The ball is starting to roll.

 

Most of that success came with Bruce Van de Velde running the point in the ISU athletic office attack. And to a large extent, Van de Velde did a below average job of promoting the changing tide of Cyclone football. Other than the Bergstrom indoor practice facility, which would have been very difficult to screw up, Van de Velde didn't take advantage of the momentum in the program. Season tickets increased only moderately, the marketing of ISU football remained unchanged, as Van de Velde was satisfied to just sit back and watch.

 

With Pollard taking the AD position to a much more visible and aggressive level of performance, the potential of improvement is impossible to ignore. He is not going to allow the Cyclone football team to wallow in the back pages. Dan McCarney has always played the lack-of-respect card, and he has done all he could to change ISU's unhealthy perception. But the only real work he could do to change that perception was to win football games. He has done that. Now, it's up to someone else to take the ISU torch and spread it across state lines. Thus the recent three month PR war in the media.

 

Pollard realized right away how important communicating the Cyclone message is. He hired Steve Malchow as the senior associate athletics director for communications. Malchow is one of the sharpest fellows you will ever talk to and has been invaluable in recent months to Jamie Pollard and the Cyclones. Every move Pollard announces has been crafted and calculated by Malchow and the rest of the athletic department. They have been hard-set on changing the reputation of the Cyclones. Last month's "Billboard-Gate" wasn't just a random move. That was an orchestrated attempt to motivate the ISU base in enemy territory and at the same time grab headlines and generate discussion in eastern Iowa. It worked brilliantly. Even before the billboard was constructed, it was already front page material in newspapers across the state. And it sent the folks in Iowa City backpedaling like a burned defensive back.

 

Don't expect that to change.

 

The moves Pollard has made have accentuated the thought that the Cyclones are no longer comfortable with being average. "Go hard or don't go at all."   

 

Now if we could just fast forward to football season. We are only 49 days away and I'm tired of watching Kobiyashi eat hot dogs.

 


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