Category archive: Iowa Hawkeyes
There's been a lot of talk lately about a new, separate division in college athletics. The big boys breaking away to govern themselves, fleeing the controversy-riddled NCAA.
The five major football conference commissioners each had a turn during their football media days last month to discuss the future of the NCAA -- and they weren't shy about the topic. The overall theme was a need for change, and everything seemed to be on the table.
So the threat of separation -- talk of which has been around for years but never really taken seriously -- is real now. At the NCAA convention in January, a revolution could be at hand -- at the very least dealing with the way the NCAA is administered.
What effect could this have on the sport of college basketball? Could the most sacred of all NCAA championships -- the men's basketball tournament -- be radically altered as a result of these changes?
Not likely, say the three commissioners who run the highest-profile hoops-driven conferences that don't sponsor Division I football (Big East, A-10 and WCC).
"My starting point is that this is not recent,'' said new Big East commissioner Val Ackerman. "These comments aren't that new. I agree we need to take a hard look at the structure and the divisions and see what the role of conferences and the NCAA headquarters should be. I think the discussion that would seem to be most appropriate is around football, whether or not there needs to be a new kind of division.
"But I think basketball is a different sport, as are the other sports, in ensuring that no matter what structure [of the NCAA] is devised, the basketball tournament should be preserved. People want the great stories -- Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State or Butler. That's what college sports is about.''
A basketball tournament without schools in basketball-rich areas in the Big East, for example, wouldn't make any sense, she added.
"Participation of all Division I schools in a Division I championship in basketball, field hockey or whatever is worth fighting for, regardless of football decisions,'' Ackerman said.
College football already is separated to some degree, with the conferences keeping the bowl money and controlling the sport's championship. The NCAA is only in place to administer the rules and regulations. Ackerman, a member of the Knight Commission, thinks "at the very least the NCAA should be compensated," something she would likely find strong resistance to from her conference commissioner colleagues in the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12.
"[The NCAA] doesn't get any share of football revenue," Ackerman said. "The conferences have it both ways. They want the NCAA to deal with academic eligibility and enforcement, but they don't get any revenue out of the pot.''
Ackerman does believe there needs to be a restructuring within the NCAA and is in favor of delving deeper into the stipend issue, especially in light of the ongoing O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA that deals with profiting off player images.
But Ackerman sees no scenario where the NCAA tournament would be touched by any major structural change to college sports.
Neither does West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who is currently on the men's basketball selection committee.
"There is going to be change, but it's unclear what that change looks like in the NCAA,'' Zaninovich said. "We think we all make a strong case that we bring a lot of value in men's basketball and in other sports. But at the end of the day, we're not the ones making the decision.
"But I haven't talked to anybody -- and I talk to a lot of people, but anybody with a significant voice -- that doesn't believe there should remain a consistent NCAA men's basketball championship, and all championships that we have. They are all very successful properties and are very successful for the student-athlete experience.''
The NCAA membership relies heavily on the 14-year, $11 billion men's tournament deal that was signed in 2010 with CBS/Turner.
"I'm confident that whatever happens with the NCAA, those things will remain the same,'' said Zaninovich of the championships. "The consensus is with our TV partners, city hosts and student-athletes that one of the best things we have is our championships.''
Zaninovich didn't dismiss some sort of new cut for Division I dealing with allocating resources, cost of attendance and so on. But he scoffed at any notion of changing the existing NCAA tournament model to segregate the financial haves and have-nots among the schools.
"It's obvious how important the funds of the NCAA tournament are to the NCAA budget,'' Zaninovich said. "That can't be understated. But the tournament has never been healthier. Our digital and mobil growth audience is all trending in the right direction. Florida Gulf Coast was one of the best stories ever covered. Those things are hard to replicate in other sports, especially if you only had 60-something schools with access to the event. There is no scarcity in the underdog story. That's what is compelling.''
Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade agreed that there should be change in the governance with all 32 conferences represented on the board, but she wouldn't be opposed to weighted votes based on each conference's financial influence in the NCAA. The current board has 11 permanent Football Bowl Subdivision representatives and seven rotating Football Championship Subdivision reps.
"So much of the NCAA's core fabric is the basketball championship,'' McGlade said. "A nationally relevant, basketball-centric league and the big five conferences can coexist together. We have to take the concerns of the BCS-level leagues seriously. We need to address them. We voted for the stipend. We are aligned philosophically.''
McGlade scoffed at the idea that the top three or four in the A-10 or the new Big East wouldn't be able to compete with the top of the big five football conferences. Everyone knows in basketball that is true. So a tournament with those conferences alone doesn't make sense to the commissioners, and they don't see how the public or the television partners would ever agree to such a proposal.
"The overall massive appeal is driven by the Cinderella story and with everyone having a chance to win,'' said McGlade, who also pointed out that the five football conferences don't touch much of the population-heavy Northeast (outside of Boston College and Syracuse), where the A-10 and Big East dominate. Holding a tournament without the majority of the Northeast corridor would exclude important markets.
"I'm optimistic that the big five don't want to destroy the championship,'' McGlade said. "They want to seek change, but everyone puts a tremendous amount of value on the championship."
Iowa has no more excuses. This is the season.
The expectation is to contend for a top spot in the Big Ten and, at the very least, make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
A trip next week to England and France should be the start of something big for the Hawkeyes, the beginning of a program-changing season for fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery.
"There's no question about it," McCaffery said. "A lot of people expect it of us. A lot of people will pick us to be ranked in the top 25 in the preseason. That means you're an NCAA tournament team. The challenge is, are you a top-25 team? Are you an NCAA team?
"We can talk about a lot of things, but we have to take care of them. We have to be healthy, be consistent, be a better road team, a better 3-point shooting team. All of these things that we say are going to happen, we have to make them happen."
McCaffery hasn't shied away from what must be done. A year ago, in a similar conversation, McCaffery discussed how the Hawkeyes were close in 2012 but didn't defend well enough to get into the NCAAs. Iowa reached the NIT second round. The Hawkeyes won eight Big Ten games, 18 overall.
Last season, the numbers showed two more NIT wins to the title game (before losing to Baylor), one more Big Ten win and seven overall.
There were plenty of late-possession losses, notably on the road at Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Iowa won only three road games -- at Penn State and Northwestern and then in the NIT quarterfinal at Virginia.
"We were way better, but we missed some opportunities to close games," McCaffery said. "We have to establish that we can make 3s, be more consistent offensively, get more individuals to score the ball on offense."
This isn't a team full of stars, but a crew that can produce at every position.
The roster is loaded with experience in Melsahn Basabe, Mike Gesell, Roy Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe, Aaron White, Josh Oglesby, Anthony Clemmons, Gabriel Olaseni and Adam Woodbury -- all significant contributors. Add Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff and freshman Peter Jok and the Hawkeyes can go 11 deep.
"We're a deeper team, a more experienced team, one that has now proven it can defend but now has to be more consistent making shots," McCaffery said. "I think we will."
Last season, Iowa's schedule was front-loaded in the Big Ten, playing Indiana, at Michigan and Michigan State in the first three games. The Hawkeyes lost them all, and the hole was too deep to crawl out from in the end. They also didn't get a chance to play Michigan or Ohio State at home in the unbalanced schedule.
This winter, the Hawkeyes play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin twice. The one-play road games are at Indiana and Penn State with the two at home against Purdue and Nebraska.
There are no excuses with this schedule. The opportunities are aplenty. Taking on Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis and then likely Tennessee and then perhaps Kansas in the title game offer power-rating points in the Bahamas. Hosting Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and going to rival Iowa State will be two more RPI boosters.
"We were probably one more road win from getting in last year," McCaffery said. "We had four times where guys hit shots in the last 15 seconds. We have to make sure that doesn't happen."
It starts with this trip to Europe.
Gesell won't play due to a broken finger. That means everyone else has to play meaningful minutes. Olaseni is from London, so this trip is in part for him. But with a whopping six games on the schedule, it's clear McCaffery is intent on more than just sightseeing. He needs to incorporate Jok and Uthoff, and the trip will provide some answers on whether the team can really go 11 deep.
"I want to see Olaseni be more aggressive offensively. I want to see Woodbury be more aggressive offensively. I want to see Marble and White do what they're supposed to do and upgrade their game a bit," McCaffery said. "Uthoff, McCabe and Basabe should be scorers. We need those guys. Our strength lies in that very few teams will have as many good players. Some may have stars we don't have, but we have a lot of players capable of double figures."
Woodbury and Olaseni need to benefit as centers on the trip while Uthoff logging minutes after sitting out for a year is imperative, according to McCaffery.
The talk is done. The quest to complete the four-year plan of making the NCAAs and being nationally, not just regionally, relevant is now at hand. Iowa has won just one NCAA tournament game since reaching the 1999 Sweet 16.
The trip is the first step of what should be many if Iowa is truly going to be a March player once again.