One of the criticisms I hear most about Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and his support staff is that they are clueless about what is happening to their football program.
They see the program unraveling, but refuse to do anything about it.
They see the losses increasing and fan support decreasing, and yet still act as if everything is business as usual under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Believe what you want, but you’re wrong to think that about Barta.
Blame him all you want for giving Ferentz a 10-year guaranteed contract with a buyout that’s more one-sided than an Iowa City Regina football game.
But you can’t blame Barta for being naïve or for refusing to deal with the growing threat of apathy.
Barta has to think outside the box for ways to deal with fan frustration and he did that on Thursday by holding a 40-minute question-and-answer phone call with Iowa football season ticket holders.
He reached out to fans who sacrifice a great deal of time, money and energy supporting the Iowa football team to tell them that he feels their pain and values their opinion.
Most of the feedback I’ve received from fans who were on the call has been positive.
Barta reportedly talked about being more fan friendly in ways like hosting more night games and being less restrictive with regard to post-game tailgating rules. On Friday, the university announced that it would expand tailgating for one hour after day games.
I say why stop there with regard to tailgating?
It’s time to soften the restrictions and make it fun again. I’m all for arresting obnoxious drunks who cause distractions, but was it really that bad before UI heightened security several years ago?
Most of the tailgaters I know say it wasn’t. They accuse UI officials of over-reacting and trying to honor the wishes of a few deep-pocketed donors who want easy access to the stadium on game day. The parking lot just west of Kinnick Stadium used to bustle with activity. But now most of those fans have been relocated, I’m told, to make room for the big donors.
Tailgating for so many years has been the one constant with Iowa football. Even during the disastrous 1970s, fans still embraced the tailgating scene.
Now, all I hear is how sterile the tailgating environment is around Kinnick Stadium.
Barta can’t really do anything about the product on the field without firing Ferentz. And that won’t happen anytime soon, nor should it.
Barta can impact tailgating, though.
It’s bad enough having a football team that struggles. But combine that with dissatisfaction over tailgating and you have potentially a serious problem in which the only cure is winning at a high rate.
I’m just not sure the football team is capable of that right now.