Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson and Drake coach Darian DeVries were somewhat cautious Thursday in what they said about the demise of the Hy-Vee Classic.
They did admit on a teleconference with Missouri Valley Conference coaches that they were dismayed when it was announced two weeks ago that Iowa is pulling out of the annual doubleheader involving the state’s four NCAA Division I basketball programs, essentially killing the event.
Valley commissioner Doug Elgin was considerably less restrained when asked about it.
"It made me sick, to be honest about it," Elgin said.
"I had heard rumors when I was out there for the event that this was likely to happen," he added. "I just think it speaks poorly to the way in which programs make decisions to end rivalries which make sense. I think the losers in this are the citizens of Iowa, the taxpayers, those who like to see the kids who played against one another in high school in many instances meet on the floor in Des Moines."
Elgin’s comments were part of a theme that resonated throughout the teleconference. Most Valley coaches believe mid-major programs are being disrespected.
Not enough mid-majors are receiving at-large berths in the NCAA tournament. Everything seems to be favoring teams in the so-called power-five conferences these days.
And now the two power-five programs in Iowa are eliminating the only opportunity the state’s two mid-majors had to compete against them.
"It was something that was really good for our state, and we’ve got a unique deal with four Division I schools," Jacobson said. "So it’s disappointing that we’ve reached this point where we do not see each other and get together on one day so our entire state can enjoy it. It’s just a tough deal for basketball in our state."
DeVries, entering his first season as the head man at Drake, used the same word: Disappointed.
"We had such a good, unique thing for basketball in the state of Iowa and basketball fans and basketball players and coaches and all those sort of things," he said. "When you remove that, you remove a little piece of what draws everybody to college basketball in the state. We’ll certainly miss that component of it. I think our fans are the ones that get cheated the most by that coming to an end."
The Hy-Vee Classic will be held one more time with Iowa playing UNI and Drake taking on Iowa State on Dec. 15 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
After that, it will cease to exist and there is a great deal of doubt as to whether or not the Hawkeyes and Cyclones will attempt to fit the Panthers and Bulldogs into their schedules.
"You’d love to have a scenario where you can play home-and-homes like we used to have it or a neutral site game once a year or whatever," DeVries said. "We’ll just have to see where Iowa and Iowa State want to take it moving forward."
The Hawkeyes and Cyclones may not want to take it anywhere at all.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said recently that there are no plans to have either UNI or Drake on the schedule for 2019-20, although he didn’t discount the possibility of it happening beyond that.
Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard said he also is open to playing UNI or Drake but only if the games take place at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. It’s doubtful if UNI, in particular, would be receptive to it not being a home-and-home arrangement.
Iowa is backed into a corner schedule-wise, which is what prompted the termination of the Hy-Vee Classic to begin with. The Big Ten is going to a 20-game conference schedule next season, and the Hawkeyes also are obligated to play inter-conference games with ACC and Big East opponents, plus the annual game with Iowa State, plus a pre-conference tournament.
That leaves four openings on the schedule, and you can bet the Hawkeyes will want all those games to be at home, preferably against teams they know they can beat.
That doesn’t favor any future matchups with the instate upstarts.
This is the way it is in most other states already. You don’t see Ohio State playing Toledo and Kent State on a regular basis. Indiana has played Valparaiso twice in the past 62 years. Illinois hasn’t played DePaul since 1957.
Iowa had been different in that respect. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones have played Drake and/or UNI every year for decades.
"Now they’re like the other states — most of the other states — that really don’t have any intrastate rivalries that are played between power five schools and the rest of Division I," Elgin said.