Iowa seeks to enhance 'fan experience'
CHICAGO — Enhanced fan experiences are driving more than physical changes at Kinnick Stadium.
They also remain a consideration for potential game-day changes at Iowa football games, including the possible sale of beer at concession stands during the Hawkeye home game.
Director of athletics Gary Barta said Tuesday at the Big Ten kickoff that Iowa officials are in no rush to allow the sale of beer to the general public at games, but conceded that the landscape has changed at the collegiate level in the past decade.
Oklahoma State earlier this month joined a growing group of schools that will offer fans an opportunity to purchase beer at football games and Barta said as that becomes more common nationally, Iowa officials will monitor situations that 10 years ago he would have never envisioned.
“We weren’t the first to do it, but I don’t think we would be the last school, either,’’ Barta said. “If we do it, it will be motivated by fan experience and not by the idea of bringing in more money.’’
Improving the “fan experience’’ has guided Iowa during its ongoing north end zone construction project at Kinnick Stadium, changes that will reduce the stadium’s capacity from 70,585 to 69,250 for the upcoming season.
“At first, maintaining 70,000 was important but as we talked with the engineers, the fan experience component became more important,’’ Barta said. “We will still be in the top 25 in the country in attendance with the new capacity and that part of it was important.’’
Barta believes the stadium structure being created will lead to a more intimidating environment for visiting opponents and he knows that when completed before the 2019 season that wider aisles, wider seats and additional restrooms and club seats will enhance the fan experience as well.
As has been the plan, temporary restrooms and concessions will be used during the 2018 season.
“The project is coming along, the club areas are going to be fantastic and have nearly sold out. Things are looking good,’’ Barta said, adding that ticket sales for the season are ahead of last year’s pace.
Playoff problem: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said a mirror is where Big Ten coaches need to look when discussing why the league championship game winner has been on the outside looking in when playoff qualifiers are announced.
“I blame ourselves,’’ Meyer said. “That’s our job. That’s my job. We lost two games (to Oklahoma and Iowa) last year and that cost us. We played a very tough schedule.’’
Honoring Howard: Former Illinois linebacker Dana Howard and Nebraska lineman Aaron Taylor, both selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 4, were honored at Tuesday’s Big Ten kickoff luncheon.
Howard is the 17th Illinois player or coach selected for induction into the hall.
Black Friday back: The structure of future Big Ten schedules and balancing cross-divisional play are among topics being discussed by administrators this week.
Final details are still being worked out, but Barta believes the resumption of an annual Black Friday game against Nebraska following a two-year hiatus is likely for the Hawkeyes.
“We’ve had good discussions,’’ Barta said. “It’s something the new regime at Nebraska is interested in. It’s something we’re interested in.’’
Iowa and Nebraska have met the day after Thanksgiving annually since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, but the Hawkeyes will conclude the season against Wisconsin in 2020 and 2021.
Potential personality: In adding junior college transfer Mekhi Sargent to the Iowa roster this summer, Ferentz sees a good fit with the group of running backs Iowa returns.
“He brings a lot of the same traits that James Butler brought to our program a year ago,’’ Ferentz said. “His personality, the way he goes about his business, they’re similar and that was among the reasons we were interested in Mekhi.’’
A Florida native with three years of eligibility remaining, Sargent rushed for 1,499 yards last season at Iowa Western Community College.
Spartan return: Michigan State linebacker John Reschke is being given a chance to return to the program after being dismissed last fall for making what was labeled an “insensitive remark’’ about a former teammate.
Coach Mark Dantonio said he was approached by Spartans players who sought to give Reschke a second chance and confirmed that he is in the process of working his way back onto the roster.
Considering options: One of the most significant rule changes for the upcoming season involves kickoffs.
With an eye on reducing injury potential, return teams now have the option taking the ball at the 25-yard line if they choose to wave for a fair catch anywhere inside the 25.
Ferentz said the topic of how to approach things has been tossed around by Iowa coaches.
“There may be times when you need a play. If you have a dynamic return guy, that’s a consideration,’’ Ferentz said.