By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the first time in about 16 months, I will travel to cover a Big Ten Conference event on Thursday.
My destination is the annual Big Ten Football Media Day event, which will be held Thursday and Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with Iowa among seven teams that will be highlighted on Friday.
Last year’s event was canceled due to the global pandemic, so this is a step in the right direction, although, the pandemic remains a threat.
The Big Ten is asking those who haven’t been vaccinated to wear a mask and social distancing will be enforced.
I normally don’t get too excited about covering this event because rarely does any news come from it, and because I’ve covered it since the early 1990s.
There is also more access to the Iowa players over the summer compared to when Hayden Fry coached at Iowa, and compared to the early years under Kirk Ferentz.
But this is another step towards normalcy, and some of my colleagues seem to love and cherish this event, so I’m happy for them.
Kirk Ferentz, on the other hand, isn’t a fan of Big Ten Media Day, and that’s putting it mildly.
Ferentz will be accompanied by three of his players: receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., center Tyler Linderbaum and defensive end Zach Van Valkenburg.
Tracy grew up near Indianapolis, so this will be like a homecoming for him, while Linderbaum is now considered by many the premier center in college football.
Van Valkenburg is also a good story as a transfer who played his first two seasons at Hillside College, a Division II school in his home state of Michigan. He is now Iowa’s most experienced defensive lineman and a lot will be asked of him this fall.
My last Big Ten road trip was to cover the 2020 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, but it was canceled the morning after arriving in Indianapolis due to the outbreak of the global pandemic.
I chose not to travel to Iowa football games and men’s basketball games during the 2020-21 school year for health reasons, and because there were no in-person interviews.
We’ve now moved beyond that depressing circumstance, but the coronavirus remains a threat, especially for those who haven’t been vaccinated.
I’m not here to tell you to get vaccinated, but it would be a huge shame if the pandemic alters the way we cover and watch sports for a second consecutive year.
This will be Kirk Ferentz’s 23rd Big Ten Media day event and my 29th in 30 years.
One of my favorite Kirk Ferentz moments actually came from this event when he was asked to pick one of his top moments as the Iowa head coach.
He paused briefly before saying the moment he pulls out of the hotel parking lot to return home after attending Big Ten media day.
Of course, Ferentz was joking, but there was also some truth to his humor.
Ferentz is more substance than style, but Big Ten Media Day is more style than substance. It just doesn’t fit Ferentz’s humble nature to brag about his team before practice even starts, or to make bold predictions
Ferentz basically says the same thing every year; that he’s excited about his team’s potential and cautiously optimistic about the season, but it’ll take a lot of hard work and improvement to have success.
One of my favorite stories from Big Ten Media Day, even though it comes at my expense, was crossing paths with Hayden Fry in Chicago in the mid-1990s.
We hadn’t spoken since the end of spring practice, and Hayden looked at me and said: “Pattie, I don’t know what you did this summer, but it obviously wasn’t sit-ups.”
That was Hayden’s unique and colorful way of saying that I had put on a few pounds.
Needless to say, I sure miss Hayden and his wit.
There also was the time when a buddy of mine from college, who was living in Chicago, slept on the floor of a hotel room that I was sharing with a photographer from the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
My buddy snored as loud as a chainsaw, so I couldn’t sleep, nor could the photographer.
It made the next day, which started bright and early with player interviews, a challenge to say the least.
Conference expansion will almost certainly be a hot topic when Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren addresses the media on Thursday, especially with the Houston Chronicle reporting Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma are both interested in moving to the Southeastern Conference.
Should that happen, the Big Ten would be under pressure to make a move, but unless Notre Dame is willing to finally climb aboard, which is highly unlikely due to its ties with the Atlantic Coast Conference, and to its desire to remain a football independent, there aren’t many attractive options.
This will be my first time inside Lucas Oil Stadium since the Iowa football team lost to Michigan State 16-13 in the 2015 Big Ten Championship game.
I remember it being incredibly loud, especially when C.J. Beathard and Tevaun Smith hooked up for a long touchdown completion.
One other thing about Kirk Ferentz, I’ve always referred to him as Kirk and he seems just fine with using his first name.
He could insist that we call him coach Ferentz or Commander Kirk or Mr. Ferentz, and threaten to walk out, but again, he’s more substance than style.