IOWA CITY, Iowa – From a facilities standpoint, the Iowa football program has made huge strides since I almost brought down the bubble in 1995.
All it took back then to deflate Iowa’s indoor practice facility was an idiot like me using the wrong door to gain entrance.
Somehow, I missed the sign in big red letters that warned people not to use the double doors on the west end of the bubble because opening either door would supposedly cause the bubble to deflate.
The sign was right because as soon as the door opened, you could feel air being sucked out of the bubble.
I knew it was serious when Iowa Sports Information Director Phil Haddy didn’t laugh at my mistake. He knew what would happen if the door didn’t get shut quickly. The bubble eventually would deflate and crumble to the ground.
I knew it was real serious when Haddy and I couldn’t get the door to shut because the pressure was too strong.
Fortunately, Iowa tight end Scott Slutzker and offensive lineman Ross Verba were nearby and came to the rescue.
They used their size and strength to finally shut the door, but it wasn’t easy.
I bring up that story to help illustrate how much the circumstances have changed with regard to football facilities.
The bubble is long gone, replaced by a $55 million performance center.
Iowa also renovated Kinnick Stadium in 2006 at a cost of $89 million. New luxury boxes were built, along with a new press box that has air conditioning. The south end zone also was rebuilt as part of that project.
And then on Tuesday, Iowa unveiled its next plan for upgrading Kinnick Stadium, which is a $90 million renovation of the north end zone and seating area.
The state board of regents will decide whether to approve the project next week.
It seems likely that they would approve it because it’s the cost of doing big business and the next step in the arms race.
If you fall behind in the football arm’s race, your team risks falling behind in recruiting and then ultimately on the field.
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday talked about how much things have changed since he first came to Iowa as the offensive line coach under Hayden Fry in 1981.
Fry and his assistants used to work in a cramped and crowded area of the UI Field House. The bubble still was just a dream when Ferentz arrived 35 years ago.
“We’ve already got an unbelievable stadium that was pretty good before the press box went up,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “Now it’s more spectacular. So it’s kind of the next step for the program continuing to push forward.
“It’s like anything in life. It’s competitive. If you’re not pushing forward, you’re probably not doing the right thing. It’s the next step.”
Critics will say it’s excessive and they’re probably right. But much of what happens with big-time college football is excessive, including coaching salaries.
But to make money, you have to spend money. And since winning is the best way to make money, you have to give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping up with the arm’s race.
The Iowa athletic department as a whole suffers when the football program struggles because football is expected to help pay for other teams.
Cut corners with football and you risk having a trickle-down effect.
As for the bubble, it played a vital role in building the Iowa program. It also helped to keep Fry at Iowa because he had threatened to leave in the mid-1980s before the bubble was built.
But now it’s almost laughable to think of the bubble and how it compares to today’s indoor facility.
It would take a lot more than entering through the wrong door to bring down the current facility.