The official 2018-19 schedule for Iowa wrestling isn't out yet and, if the last few years are any indication, may not be out until August. But we have a pretty good idea of what it will look like, based on information released by Iowa's opponents (many of whom release their own schedule information much sooner than Iowa), past knowledge (Iowa wrestles Oklahoma State and Iowa State every year), and educated guesses based on the conference scheduling rotations established by the Delanybot 9000 with the last few schedules. And, frankly, it's looking like it's not going to be a very exciting schedule, especially if you're a home fan planning to attend duals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena next year.
And that's a shame because there's more excitement and positive buzz around the Iowa program heading into next year than we've seen in several years. Iowa finished third at the NCAA Tournament (an improvement on their fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament) and led the tournament in bonus points. Better yet, they're set to return the core of that team, including virtually all of their high bonus-point scorers (they're second in the nation in returning points from this year's NCAA Tournament, with 84), led by 125 national champion and freshman phenom (soon-to-be sophomore sensation?) Spencer Lee. They added a high-profile transfer in Austin DeSanto at a position of extreme need -- 133 lbs -- to fill the most glaring hole in their lineup and they're set to (likely) welcome a pair of exciting redshirt freshmen (Max Murin and Jacob Warner) into the starting lineup as well. There's plenty to be excited about when it comes to next year's Iowa lineup and watching them wrestle should be a lot of fun. But we want to see them in high-profile matches and duals and those may be in shorter supply than we'd like to see next year.
- Kent State (away; November)
- Oklahoma State (away; likely January)
- Iowa State (home; TBD)
Iowa State and Oklahoma State are constants on Iowa's non-conference schedule and figure to remain that way for the forseeable future. The Iowa-Oklahoma State rivalry is rich with history and features the two most successful programs in the sport. The Iowa-Iowa State rivalry has plenty of history in its own right, and while the Cyclones have been (very) down in recent years, new coach Kevin Dresser does seem to have them on the path to respectability once again. Kent State is not a common non-conference opponent, but the dual has been confirmed by Kent State:
2018/2019 Schedule Updates
— Kent State Wrestling (@KentStWrestling) May 4, 2018
It's likely the start of a home-and-away series that will see the Golden Flashes come to Iowa City in the near future. That dual is intriguing because it could see a showdown at 197 lbs between Warner, Iowa's much-hyped redshirt freshman and a Top 10 overall recruit in 2017, and Kent State's Kyle Conel, whose out-of-nowhere run to third place at the NCAA Tournament was one the best stories of the past season.
But what about the Big Ten season? The Big Ten is far and away the best and most dominant conference in college wrestling; it actually is what the SEC purports to be in college football. Well, about that...
- Illinois (away)
- Indiana (home)
- Maryland (home)
- Minnesota (away)
- Nebraska (away)
- Northwestern (away)
- Purdue (home)
- Rutgers (home)
- Wisconsin (away)
Woof. As IAWrestle noted, Purdue, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska have all confirmed Iowa's presence on their schedule, as well as whether the dual is home or away. (And we knew Iowa would be facing Minnesota in Minneapolis next year anyway because Minnesota is Iowa's protected rival in wrestling and they faced the Gophers in Iowa City in 2017-18.) The duals with Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern have not yet been confirmed, but they're all-but-assured based on the current Big Ten scheduling rotation (they were off the schedule in 2016-17 and in Iowa City in 2017-18, so based on the pattern of off schedule-home-away -- or home-away-off, if you prefer -- they should be away duals this year). Likewise, Indiana was off Iowa's schedule in 2017-18, so according to the rotation noted above, they should be a home dual this year.
You can see the scheduling rotation more clearly if you look at the conference opponents Iowa has faced over the last four years.
|MIN (away)||MIN (home)||MIN (away)||MIN (home)||MIN (away)|
|MSU (home)||MSU (off)||MSU (away)||MSU (home)||MSU (off)|
|RUT (away)||RUT (home)||RUT (off)||RUT (away)||RUT (home)|
|OSU (away)||OSU (off)||OSU (home)||OSU (away)||OSU (off)|
|ILL (home)||ILL (away)||ILL (off)||ILL (home)||ILL (away)|
|jNW (home)||jNW (away)||jNW (off)||jNW (home)||jNW (away)|
|MD (away)||MD (home)||MD (off)||MD (away)||MD (home)|
|PSU (away)||PSU (off)||PSU (home)||PSU (away)||PSU (off)|
|MICH (home)||MICH (off)||MICH (away)||MICH (home)||MICH (off)|
|IND (off)||IND (home)||IND (away)||IND (off)||IND (home)|
|NEB (off)||NEB (away)||NEB (home)||NEB (off)||NEB (away)|
|PUR (off)||PUR (home)||PUR (away)||PUR (off)||PUR (home)|
|WIS (off)||WIS (away)||WIS (home)||WIS (off)||WIS (away)|
The 2017-18 conference schedule was a mirror of the 2014-15 schedule, so it stands to reason that the 2018-19 schedule will be a mirror of the 2015-16 schedule. (That was a disappointing schedule, too, although it at least had Minnesota making a trip to Iowa City, as well as the best non-conference dual -- and one of the best duals, period, of the last decade -- in Iowa's high-profile outdoors throwdown with Oklahoma State at Grapple on the Gridiron inside Kinnick Stadium.)
Notably absent from this year's conference schedule? Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. They were the top three finishers in the Big Ten Tournament last year and three of the top four finishers at the NCAA Tournament and they're expected to field good teams next year (particularly Penn State, who will once again enter the season as the preseason Big Ten and national title favorite). Unfortunately, Iowa won't get to see them until (probably) the Big Ten Tournament (neither Penn State nor Ohio State nor Michigan are regular attendees at the Midlands Championships and Iowa tends not to go to any other high-profile national tournaments), which is hugely disappointing. Of course, the Delanybot 9000 separated Iowa and Penn State on the Big Ten regular season schedule back in 2013-14, and the schools famously worked around that by scheduling a non-conference dual in CHA -- on Twitter, of all places. (It was a more innocent time.) It would be grand if they could pull off something similar this year, but who knows if that would be logistically possible or not.
There's not much wiggle room on Iowa's schedule, either, between the mandatory nine Big Ten duals, the ongoing series with Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and the annual Iowa City Duals event. That will no doubt return in 2018 as well, but given the general caliber of opponent Iowa's faced in that event, it's unlikely we'll see anyone too threatening (or exciting) in the mix there. Three duals at the Iowa City Duals would give Iowa a 15-dual schedule in 2018-19; that's exactly how many duals they wrestled in this past season.
Iowa's still going to be a very fun team to watch next year -- they're still going to have bonus point machines like Spencer Lee, Alex Marinelli, Michael Kemerer, and Sam Stoll, as well as some exciting newcomers in Austin DeSanto, Max Murin, and Jacob Warner. People will certainly turn out to watch them, even if it's just in one-sided routs. But it would definitely be fun to see them in some high-profile duals as well, facing off against the very best teams in the country. Those are the duals that get Carver-Hawkeye Arena buzzing and create the electric atmosphere that it's so famed for.
Those are also the duals that create the biggest attendance numbers; it will be interesting to see if Iowa can maintain their status as the national leader in attendance. They led the nation in attendance for the 12th straight year this past season, but it certainly won't be easy to pack CHA next year with the projected home schedule. Outside of the Iowa State dual, I don't see any home duals likely to top 10,000 tickets sold. (On the other hand, it may be difficult for the program with the best shot of catching them for the attendance crown -- Penn State -- to do so next year, since it doesn't look like they'll have a very good home schedule, either. They (obviously) won't be facing Iowa and their annual dual with Ohio State should be in Columbus next year.)
This is who Iowa's likely to see in home duals next season:
- Iowa State
- Iowa City Duals opponents TBA
Hopefully there's another non-conference opponent squeezed in there as well (six home dates would make for a pretty light home schedule in terms of quantity as well as quality), but still: not a lot of opponents there to get your juices flowing.
Obviously we have some somewhat selfish motivations in wanting Iowa to have a better schedule -- it makes for a more exciting viewing experience for us as Iowa fans -- but I think this schedule is also bad for college wrestling as a whole. Love Iowa (as lots do) or hate Iowa (as lots also do), the Hawkeyes are one of the few programs in the country who can reliably move the needle and generate buzz. And college wrestling is a sport that can certainly use all the buzz it can get, particularly during the dual meet season. The Iowa-Penn State rivalry has become one of the best -- if not the best -- in college wrestling since Cael Sanderson moved out east and the Iowa-Ohio State rivalry has been growing in intensity in recent years. (And it's not like Iowa fans need that much motivation to get hyped up to try and beat Ohio State in something.)
Losing those rivalries this season means two fewer big-time dual meets and two fewer showcase events for the sport. That's not great for a sport that needs to get more eyes on it. The current scheduling rotation is, on one level, very fair -- you face 12 of the other 13 teams in the league on a very regular basis, meaning you never go too long without facing a league opponent (an issue that has proven problematic in other sports, like football). On another level, it's very unfair -- a schedule without Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan is considerably easier than a schedule with those teams. And, again, it's also just bad business for the best and most popular teams not to face each other. But that's the reality we have to live with for now -- and it means that in 2018-19, Iowa is likely going to have a pretty lousy schedule, especially for home duals. So it goes, unfortunately.