Protected conference rivals are nothing new for Iowa sports. For years Minnesota was Iowa's protected rival in football, until the addition of divisional play made that distinction irrelevant. Minnesota still is Iowa's protected rival in wrestling, guaranteeing a border brawl dual between the Hawkeyes and Gophers each season. Protected rivals have been discussed often for Big Ten basketball as well, especially as the league has grown and it's become harder to schedule each opponent twice per year. Well, protected rivals are coming now and Iowa's protected rival will be... Nebrasketball?
Interesting note from Big Ten meetings today: It looks like future men's basketball schedules will try to preserve the Nebraska-Iowa rivalry, meaning they would always play twice a year (like Purdue-Indiana). Wisconsin would be paired with Minnesota
— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) May 14, 2018
Yep. For the forseeable future, we can expect to see Iowa and Nebraska play home and away each season. Hooray? (Emmert has more details on the arrangement here.)
The problem with "protected rivalries" is that as much as they make sense for some pairings, they created forced marriages for others. It makes perfect sense for Indiana and Purdue or Michigan and Michigan State to be protected rivals and play each other twice per season; those are great rivalries and absolutely worth of that level of protection. But not every protected rivalry on the Big Ten is near that level. Iowa-Nebraska sure isn't. The addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten gave Iowa another border rival and has paid big dividends in some sports (like football), but Nebraska basketball ain't Nebraska football. Tim Miles has some made some strides at Nebraska (and also taken a few steps backward at times), but the Iowa-Nebraska hoops rivalry feels like it exists at a low simmer even at the best of times.
Iowa has three other border rivals with whom they have much deeper history, animosity, and passion in hoops -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Unfortunately, they all have other dance partners at the protected rivalry ball -- Minnesota and Wisconsin are paired up (at Wisconsin's behest, apparently, although Greg Gard did say Iowa would have been a "natural fit" for the Badgers as well) and Illinois will be paired up with their in-state rival Northwestern. And, sure, those pairings all make a great deal of sense on their own -- they just happen to leave Iowa holding a Nebrasketball-shaped bag.
Iowa have played each other more than anyone else with a rivalry that goes back well over a century. And you don't hear Minnesota fans chanting "who hates Wisconsin" at every sporting event under the sun. Iowa and Wisconsin have one of the oldest -- and closest -- rivalries in the league, with Wisconsin owning a narrow 83-81 advantage in the series. It's also a rivalry that's produced some indelible moments over the last decade and seen no shortage of animosity between the fanbases. The animosity in the Iowa-Illinois rivalry is a little bit older, but there's still a rich history of hatred and passion between the Hawkeyes and the Illini. Meanwhile, Iowa and Nebraska have... proximity? A shared river?
To be sure, familiarity breeds contempt in the world of rivalry-building and Iowa and Nebraska will get plenty familiar with each other by playing twice a year going forward. So I'm sure those extra-games will add a little extra juice to the rivalry. But it's going to take more than a few extra games over a five-year span to really supercharge the Iowa-Nebraska basketball rivalry -- it's going to take games with stakes, big plays in big moments in big games, and maybe some recruiting or transfer-related spice. Maybe we'll get that, maybe we won't -- but we're certainly going to get plenty of Nebrasketball going forward whether we like it or not.
And in other scheduling news, the match-ups for the Gavitt Tipoff Games between the Big Ten and the Big East are out and, for the second straight year, Iowa will be sitting out the event. Per Jon Rothstein, the match-ups are:
- Michigan at Villanova
- Wisconsin at Xavier
- Georgetown at Illinois
- Ohio State at Creighton
- St. John's at Rutgers
- Seton Hall at Nebraska
- Marquette at Indiana
- Penn State at DePaul
Iowa took part in the first two iterations of the Gavitt Games, winning at Marquette 89-61 in 2015 and losing to Seton Hall 91-83 in 2016. They sat out last year's event. That said, it's not much of a surprise to see them not participating again this year; it's mainly a function of math. The Big Ten has 14 teams, while the Big East has 10 and there are only 8 games per year -- that means six Big Ten teams have to sit out each year. The agreement for the Gavitt Games runs through 2022 and every Big Ten team is required to participate a "minimum" of four times, so we should see Iowa back in the Gavitt Games in 2019 or 2020. Which Big East team would you like to see Iowa get a crack at when they do return to the Gavitt Games?