By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As a graduate of Drake University, who has covered Iowa athletics for nearly 30 years, of course, I would prefer that the four Division I in-state men’s basketball teams play each other on an annual basis, home and away.
They did for decades, but now the two biggest of the four – Iowa and Iowa State – supposedly don’t have enough openings on the non-conference portion of their schedule to support an annual home-and-away series with Drake and Northern Iowa, or even in a Big Four Classic setup, for that matter.
The Big Four Classic was established in 2012 as sort of a compromise, but the one-day event at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines only lasted through 2018, and never really caught the imagination of fans.
Iowa cited an increase of Big Ten games among the reasons it was pulling out the Big Four Classic.
The Big Ten now plays 20 conference games, which only leaves room for about 11 non-conference games, and at least three or four of the non-conference spots are filled with Iowa State, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and with holiday tournament games.
But even with all of the pre-determined scheduling, there still would be enough open spots for Iowa to play Drake and Northern Iowa on an annual basis, but Iowa clearly has no desire to do that anymore, especially on the road.
And that is certainly Iowa’s prerogative.
But here’s an idea:
Iowa, Iowa State, Drake and Northern Iowa should play in a two-day tournament at Wells Fargo Arena, with the semifinals on a Saturday in either late November or early December followed by the championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Try it just once and see how fans respond to a two-day tournament format rather than just two games being played back-to-back on a Saturday, as was the setup for the Big Four Classic where Iowa and Iowa State never faced each other.
Part of the money raised from the two-day tournament could be donated to a charity that each of the four schools picks. It could be one charity or four different charities picked by each school.
Northern Iowa is 14-2 overall this season and a fun team to watch. It’s unfortunate that Iowa doesn’t get to face the Panthers this season.
And the same with Drake, which is also making progress under second-year head coach Darian DeVries.
Iowa, even with this two-day event, still would have enough room to schedule a few foregone conclusion non-conference games because they serve a purpose.
But this season, for example, Iowa faced North Florida and Cal Poly at home on Nov. 21st and Nov. 24th, respectively, as preliminary games for the Las Vegas Invitational. Both games were foregone conclusions as Iowa cruised to two easy wins.
And while both games were part of a holiday tournament, Iowa doesn't have to participate in that kind of tournament every season. These so-called preliminary games are kind of silly anyway.
So can’t we all agree that playing a two-day tournament matching the four in-state teams around that same time would have been more enjoyable for Iowa fans, and more beneficial to the Iowa team?
A two-day event of this kind would have to be scheduled around the final Iowa football game, but that wouldn’t be too difficult.
I’m not saying this should be an annual event because that would conflict with the home-and-away series between Iowa and Iowa State.
But it would seem worth trying just once, even it meant that Iowa and Iowa State would have to face each other twice in a season, and the same with Drake and Northern Iowa, who are both members of the Missouri Valley Conference.
It wouldn't be ideal for them to play multiple times in a season, but too much is made of that in my opinion.
The early momentum gained from winning this type of event could help to propel a team to greater success.
Again, I admit that I’m biased as a Drake graduate. It hurts that Iowa and Iowa State have no interest in facing my alma mater in men’s basketball anymore.
So this is just an idea from somebody who misses the in-state games, and who has sat through too many foregone conclusion games to count.