DES MOINES — It will never be the same.
But, whether Iowa’s new Big Four Classic basketball event will become as anticipated as the traditional home-and-home battles between Iowa’s four Division-I institutions remains to be seen.
“A lot of UNI fans I’ve talked to don’t like it. They don’t like the idea of Iowa and Iowa State not being willing to come to Cedar Falls and play,” Panthers fan Sean Wendell of West Des Moines, Iowa, said Saturday as he watched the second game of the event at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I understand where both sides are coming from, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the reasoning. I’m here today, but this may take some time for fans to get used to it. It’s different.”
Saturday’s doubleheader watched by a crowd of 13,180 in the 14,606-seat arena featured two competitive games. Iowa defeated Northern Iowa by seven points and Iowa State won by nine in its game against Drake.
Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery suggested last week that it might be a stretch in this era to expect fans to commit to sitting through a 5-hour doubleheader, and that proved to be the case.
Fans came and went, watching their teams play and maybe catching a half of the other game. They cheered on their own teams, but found little else to get excited about.
“I thought you might see some Iowa State and Drake people rooting for UNI, but I didn’t see a lot of that,” Iowa fan Erin Ellis of Cedar Rapids said. “People just sort of watched the games. It never got real loud in here.”
Some of that had to do with what transpired on the court. The Hawkeyes maintained a 5-to-10 point lead throughout much of their game with the Panthers, while plenty of fouls slowed the pace of the Cyclones-Bulldogs game.
Coaches did their best to say all the right things.
Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson called it “a good day of basketball for the state,” while ISU’s Fred Hoiberg suggested the event had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game, although the generally empty cavernous areas behind the baskets kept fans at a distance from the court.
All four schools brought pep bands, mascots and spirit squads. Initial ticket allotments were split evenly between the institutions.
Iowa and Iowa State had less trouble selling tickets than the pair of Missouri Valley schools who previously welcomed one of their in-state rivals to their arenas on an annual basis.
Northern Iowa sold fewer than 650 tickets to its fans and gave away around 150 more to its students before returning the rest of its allotment.
Drake director of athletics Sandy Hatfield Clubb appreciates those issues, hearing from Bulldogs fans who do not prefer the new arrangement.
“Our preference was to continue to play both schools, Iowa and Iowa State, on our court on a home-and-home basis as we had,” Hatfield Clubb said. “They were not interested in continuing that format. So as a second option, here we are. Generally, I think it has been a good day.”
Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta shared that sentiment.
“For year one, I would say we are satisfied,” he said. “The turnout is good. I’m sure we’ll find some things to improve on, but it’s a start.”
Tickets were between $25 and $70 for the doubleheader depending on seat location. Organizers will split all revenue and expenses four ways between the institutions.
Jacobson suspects all four coaches probably had mixed feelings about the neutral-site event which will continue for at least the next three seasons.
“I’d venture a guess that all four of us probably would have preferred to have played a home game as opposed to a neutral-site game,” Jacobson said. “Absolutely, I’d like to be playing at the McLeod Center. No question, I think (McCaffery) would say the same thing. Having a home game in your building, there’s nothing like that.”