Iowa Wrestling Set An NCAA Attendance Record This Year -- But What About Next Year?

By RossWB on February 27, 2020 at 10:00 am
go hawks go
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

I know, I know -- the 2020 season isn't even over! The best parts are still to come! Trust me, I'm plenty excited about the Big Ten Tournament coming up in about 10 days and the NCAA Tournament, which gets underway three weeks from today. But in the aftermath of this season's record-setting attendance for Iowa wrestling, there's been discussion about what next year might bring, given that virtually all of this year's very good and very fun to watch team should be back in place next season. First up, the aforementioned record: 

Iowa had a greater total attendance figure in 2015-16 (97,325), but of course that number was goosed considerably by the "Grapple on the Gridiron" event at Kinnick Stadium. "Grapple" drew 42,287 fans by itself, or about 43% of Iowa's total attendance that season. 

This season's attendance was all about consistency -- consistently big crowds, that is. There were nine NCAA dual meets this season that drew 10,000 or more fans; seven of them were held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. All seven of Iowa's home dual meets this season drew over 10,000 fans, with several drawing many more than that. That all adds up and resulted in an average attendance of 12,568 fans per meet, a new NCAA record. Iowa fans love them some wrestling. 

Of course, this year featured something of a perfect storm in scheduling, something I noted before the season began. Six of the seven teams Iowa hosted were ranked when they faced Iowa (all but UT-Chattanooga) and five of those six were ranked in the Top 10, including #7 Nebraska, #6 Wisconsin, #4 Ohio State, and #2 Penn State. The Ohio State and Penn State duals were mega-duals; those two teams have been atop the college wrestling world for the last 4-5 years. There were also a pair of duals against long-time rivals in Minnesota and Oklahoma State, even if those rivals weren't close to their best this season. 

Unfortunately, getting all those teams to visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena this year means that none of them will be visiting it next year. That's just the nature of the scheduling beast, barring something very weird from the Delanybot 9000. So who will Iowa be facing next year? Well... since Rutgers and Maryland joined the league in 2014, Big Ten schedules have followed a set pattern, minus each team's protected rival (which just flips home and away each year; Iowa's protected rival is Minnesota). 

For Iowa that's looked something like this: 

HOME: Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan
AWAY: Ohio State, Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota
OFF: Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin

HOME: Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota
AWAY: Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska
OFF: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State

HOME: Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska
AWAY: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota
OFF: Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland, Illinois

HOME: Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota
AWAY: Rutgers, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State
OFF: Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin

HOME: Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue
AWAY: Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota
OFF: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State

HOME: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota
AWAY: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State
OFF: Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland, Illinois

Assuming that pattern holds... 

HOME: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Illinois
AWAY: Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota
OFF: Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Even if that exact pattern doesn't hold (although I suspect it will), I'd guess that the rotation of which teams come on the schedule and which teams come off the schedule stays intact. That rotation does allow for teams to see every other team on a pretty regular basis (even if it's frustrating for Iowa in particular, since Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan drop off the schedule every third year). But maybe Rutgers or Maryland (or both) come to CHA and Northwestern or Illinois (or both) host Iowa. I don't think that makes much difference anyway -- none of those duals are particularly desirable or likely to move much more than an average number of tickets. 

And since Iowa has home-and-home series with ISU and Okie State every year, with home and away flipping each year, we know Oklahoma State will be in Stillwater and Iowa State will be in Iowa City. 

So right now the schedule could look like: 
HOME: Michigan, Michigan St, Northwestern, Illinois (Iowa State)
AWAY: Ohio St, Penn St, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota (Oklahoma State)

That's 11 duals that you can pencil in already. Iowa only wrestled 13 duals this year, so there may only be a couple open dates still to fill, though they've wrestled more than 13 duals in years past. (If Iowa wins the big hardware we're hoping they win in March, though, I would expect Brands to continue to prioritize this year's "less is more" approach to scheduling when making future schedules.)

It certainly isn't the most enticing home dual slate -- and it's an absolute shadow of the schedule that Iowa had this season. Michigan should be much-improved next season as they get several of their best wrestlers back from Olympic redshirt seasons, so that ought to be a very good dual meet. But the next-best home dual on that schedule looks like... Iowa State? Those two duals shouldn't have much trouble topping 10,000 fans, but the others? Well, we'll probably find out just how excited Iowa fans are to see Spencer Lee, Austin DeSasnto, Alex Marinelli, Michael Kemerer, & Co. play with their food for two hours. 

Hopefully Iowa is able to schedule at least one marquee non-conference dual to next year's home schedule to help off-set the snoozer of a Big Ten slate Iowa is (likely) going to have. And there is seemingly a little good news on that front: 

That is, of course, Ivy League Cornell and not the one just up the road in Mount Vernon. (Incidentally, Iowa has wrestled Cornell College 13 times, almost three times as often as they've wrestled Cornell University.) Iowa last faced the Big Red at the National Duals tournament in 2015 (Iowa won, 24-8). As best I can tell they've only wrestled Cornell in Iowa City once (a 24-6 loss in 1964-65) and never in Ithaca, NY. 

Cornell, like several other teams, is down this year due to Olympic redshirts; three of their best wrestlers -- Vito Arujau, Yianni Diakomihalis, and Max Dean are sitting out this year as they pursue their Olympic dreams. Arujau placed 4th at 125 lbs as a freshman at last year's NCAA Tournament. Diakomihalis is the two-time defending NCAA champion at 141 lbs. And Max Dean, the younger brother of Gabe Dean (a former NCAA champion), is a two-time All-American at 184 lbs and was national runner-up last year. They'll join Ben Darmstadt, currently ranked #5 at 197 lbs, to give Cornell a formidable set of title contenders in their lineup next year. That could set up several high-profile Top 5 (or Top 10) showdowns in an Iowa-Cornell dual: Lee (or DeSanto) vs Arujau, Murin (or Eierman) vs Yianni, Assad vs Dean, and Warner vs Darmstadt? Yes, please. 

Of course, even if the Iowa-Cornell match is a go (and it's not yet confirmed), we don't know if the dual next year would be in Iowa City or Ithaca. Personally, I suspect Iowa will do everything in their power to host that dual meet in Iowa City next year -- the home schedule needs the boost and Cornell would be one of the biggest non-conference additions Iowa could get. If Iowa can add Cornell plus another reasonably high-profile non-conference team (like Arizona State, Missouri, or perhaps someone from the ACC, like NC State or North Carolina*) or an opponent with significant local interest (coughcoughUNIcoughcough), then next year's home schedule might not be too bad after all. It won't be as good as this year's all killer, no filler** schedule, but that was a once-in-a-few-decades home schedule. 

*We shouldn't even waste a second of our time entertaining the possibility of Virginia Tech.
some filler (sorry, UT Chattanooga).

Scheduling news won't heat up until this summer, so there's a long time before any of this becomes official. But it's a fun thing to mull over for a day or two before we dive deep into TOURNAMENT SZN, the best part of the NCAA wrestling calendar. 

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