Iowa scheduling hamstrung by ISU series

CHICAGO -- Future nonconference scheduling is one of the biggest topics at the Big Ten spring meetings, as some programs have more flexibility than others.

Iowa certainly finds itself in the "others" category. The reason: its annual in-state series against Iowa State. Like most Big Ten programs, Iowa needs to play seven home games per season to satisfy its budgetary demands. As the Big Ten moves to a nine-game league schedule in 2016, teams will play just three non-league games per year and have five guaranteed road games every other year.

If the Hawkeyes continue to play the Cy-Hawk series every year, their nonconference schedules beginning in 2016 will consist of Iowa State and two lower-level FBS teams that don't require return home games. Iowa has an FCS opponent on its schedule from 2013-18 but will stop playing FCS schools after the 2016 season, in compliance with the Big Ten's new scheduling directive.

Athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com on Tuesday morning that he doesn't expect scheduling another major-conference opponent besides Iowa State because of the likelihood for a home-and-home agreement and Iowa's need for at least seven home games per season.

Here's more from The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette:

"It's a good rivalry, it's good for college football, but the unique challenge is they're [Iowa State] not in our conference," Barta said Tuesday. "Our No. 1 goal is to win the Big Ten Conference and whatever beyond that. But because our in-state rival is there, it's great for the game, it's great for for the state, it just doesn’t apply toward that No. 1 goal of winning the Big Ten Conference, which is unique."

So, in 2016 with nine B1G games, Iowa's non-conference schedules of the future will be home-and-home with Iowa State and two games that won’t be home-and-home, Barta said. Iowa's budget dictates seven home football games. No bend there.

The inventory beyond Iowa State and no FCS schools remains to be seen. Last week, CBSsports.com revealed that Iowa and Northern Illinois will meet in 2018 and 2020.

The parameters are narrow for Iowa non-conference scheduling.

"We'll have two games to fill every year and they won’t be home-and-homes, because I have to have seven home games," Barta said.

While I'm not sure what playing Iowa State annually has to do with winning the Big Ten, Barta's dilemma is understandable. The Iowa-Iowa State series resonates in the state, and as much as Hawkeyes fans love to dismiss their rivals from Ames, the series has been more than competitive in recent years. Still, a little more scheduling flexibility would benefit Iowa and its fans.

Michigan would have had a similar dilemma if its annual series against Notre Dame was continuing. Athletic director Dave Brandon said Tuesday that a positive of the series suspension is having greater flexibility with other marquee opponents. Then again, the Michigan-Notre Dame series still resonates nationally, while the Iowa-Iowa State clash usually doesn't.

Could Iowa work in a neutral-site game or two? Does it make sense to take two-year breaks in the Iowa State series from time to time?