An Open Letter to Colin Cowherd:
As the self-selected representative of the State of Iowa, I want to apologize to Pac-12 fans, Big Ten fans, the College Football Playoff committee, The Disney Company, Brent Musburger and the Stanford band for my Iowa Hawkeyes failing (again) to put a competitive football team on the Rose Bowl field this past January 1st.
We didn’t belong in that game. The game was so painful to watch I’m sure even some in the Stanford band felt their halftime show crossed the line from irreverent to cruel. In truth, we did not earn the right to play in a game of that stature.
Therefore, Colin, I want to thank you for attempting to open the eyes of Hawkeye and college football fans to the virtues of taking risks in order to become something better than what is otherwise possible if you choose instead a safer path. It was an important life lesson you were imparting to us, even though most of my Hawkeye friends chose to either attack the message with inaccurate assertions (e.g., Pittsburgh is not top-tier college team), to hurl expletives at the messenger (before Twitter, what did Iowans do to defend their state?), or in most cases, just to ignore the message.
For others reading this letter and not familiar with your argument, your basic message was that Iowa’s football team is a fraud because the coach (Kirk Ferentz) chooses to play a creampuff non-conference schedule in order to inflate Iowa’s won-loss record and present a false pedigree to AP voters and the national college football audience. As a result, like the life cycle of 17-year cicadas, every other decade an Iowa Hawkeye football team ends up in the Rose Bowl…and finds a way to lose in a fashion more epic than their previous epic Rose Bowl loss.
Iowa Rose Bowl games almost feel scripted. A fake-fumble play when Stanford was already ahead 28-0 perfectly fit the game’s dramatic (or comedic) arc. It is Lucy pulling football away from Charlie Brown just as he thinks he will actually kick it this time. But, of course, he doesn’t. He never will. And Iowa won’t win the Rose Bowl. Not until we choose to accept more risk on our schedule. And probably not even then. Perhaps when global warming makes Iowa a warm, coastal state and the best players choose to come here?
To be blunt, the best college football is played at schools where the best athletes choose to attend. There is no substitute in football for quality athletes and Iowa doesn’t get them. We haven’t since the days of Alex Karras. Good coaching matters, but good players matter more. And elite players are what separate Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson from the pack. And Iowa is part of the pack.
But there is always that fluke year when a good program like Iowa’s bubbles up to the front of the pack. But unless that team plays top-tier teams early and often, you can never know for sure if this really is “the year.” Sadly, the Rose Bowl is not the place to find out if your team is for real. This is the fatal flaw of Iowa’s non-conference scheduling strategy. An approach, by the way, started under legendary Iowa coach, Hayden Fry, who wanted to ensure that his teams were healthy (and undefeated) heading into the Big Ten schedule. This strategy has continued under Fry’s student, Kirk Ferentz.
How much better would Iowa fans be feeling today if their team scheduled LSU or Georgia in 2015? Is it not better to challenge yourself and be a deserving 11-2 team in the Capital One Bowl than a deceptive 12-1 team in the Rose Bowl.
Colin, I can tell you that most Iowans are in denial. The typical Iowa sports writer is saying, “Despite the Rose Bowl outcome, Iowa had a great season.” But I believe in their private thoughts they know what I know — this Iowa season will be defined by an embarrassing loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. If Donald Trump teaches us anything, it is that the winning is more fun than losing. To be fair, there are some Iowa fans and sports literati, such as sports radio hosts Marty Tirrell (an East Coast transplant) and Ken Miller, who are conveying the truth (even if doing it a bit more gently than you, Colin). Stanford was bigger, stronger, faster and better coached than Iowa. That is a perfect recipe for a really bad game. [And Stanford is probably not in Alabama or Clemson’s class!]
I will end this letter by imploring all of us to learn the unintentional message sent by Coach Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Aiming low does not prepare you for the real world. Challenge yourself. Hike the steeper and longer trail even if a gently-sloped and shorter trial is available. It makes reaching the ultimate destination much more rewarding. Take the hard calculus class, even if it is not a graduation requirement. Put your grade point average at risk. It will pay off the day you sit before an employer and can talk more intelligently about econometric modeling and regression parameters than the student who received A’s taking only multiple-choice math classes. Take risks. Compete with the best. And enjoy the journey wherever it takes you.
Or, you can be like Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes and dial up North Dakota State and Miami (Ohio) for the 2016 schedule and whose toughest game is a home bout against Michigan. Other than the Michigan game, Iowa will be favored in all of its other games next season. And if all goes according to Ferentz’s plan, look out Pasadena, you might see those tour buses and Winnebagos from Iowa coming over the San Gabriel Mountains once again in 2017. Consider yourself warned.
Kent R. Kroeger (a lifelong Iowa Hawkeye fan)
Des Moines, Iowa