Aug. 6, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t sit well with head coach Tom Brands and the University of Iowa wrestling program when the Hawkeyes are anywhere except No. 1.
After the all-time dual wrestling attendance record was set in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Dec. 6, 2008, Brands began thinking.
“I said to our staff that if that record gets broken, we’re going to Kinnick,” Brands said Thursday at a news conference on the turf inside Kinnick Stadium.
Brands thought Minnesota was the primary threat to eclipse the attendance record of 15,955 set when the Hawkeyes defeated Cael Sanderson’s Iowa State Cyclones, 20-15, in 2008. But Sanderson moved to Penn State in 2009, and the Nittany Lions have since twice broken the record, attracting dual crowds of 15,967, versus Iowa on Feb. 8, 2015, and 15,996, versus Pittsburgh on Dec. 8, 2013.
If skies are clear and the temperature is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Nov. 14, those attendance numbers should be crushed. At 11 a.m. (CT) that day, Iowa will host Oklahoma State near the south end zone in Kinnick Stadium (capacity 70,585). The teams will compete on a 54-foot-by-54-foot mat that will not be elevated.
Brands credits Luke Eustice, director of wrestling operations, for organizing meet logistics while he considered the ideal guest.
The Cowboys were the first opponent Brands approached to participate in the outdoor extravaganza billed as “Grapple on the Gridiron.”
“We called (Oklahoma State head coach) John Smith and he was on board immediately,” Brands said. “He was excited, he didn’t even hesitate. It wasn’t ‘What are you talking about,’ ‘Wait a minute,’ ‘Let me get this straight.’ It was ‘We’re in.’
“(Smith is) a wrestling purist, he’s about doing things for wrestling and he is an adventurous type of guy. He is my kind of guy when it comes to adventure. I don’t think we’re going to go hang out together any time soon, but certainly a lot of like-mindedness there. He didn’t hesitate at all, and that’s a tribute to his program and what he is trying to do with his team as well.”
Eight hours after the wrestling dual, the Hawkeye football team hosts Big Ten rival Minnesota on the same Kinnick Stadium turf. Iowa averaged 67,512 fans during seven home football games last season. Early crowd predictions for the wrestling dual on Nov. 14 ranges from 20-70,000.
“The more the merrier. We can hold 70,000 plus,” said Gary Barta, UI director of athletics.
“If the weather is bad you grow a beard and put on a stocking cap, how’s that?”
UI wrestling coach
“Twenty to 25,000 would be my guess,” Brands said. “The important thing is we have fans out there that embrace this sort of thing; they’re nutty enough themselves. They’re wrestling purists and enthusiasts, and then you add the football tailgate crowd.”
“If we had 40,000 people in here that would be crazy,” UI senior 197-pound wrestler Nathan Burak said. “I feed off their energy and the crowd fires me up.”
“Our crowd is awesome and important for us at Iowa because we have the best fans,” UI 125-pound wrestler Thomas Gilman said. “They get involved and they can really fire you up. Let’s hope we can fill the seats. That would be awesome if we could get 70,000 plus people in here.”
The wrestling event is the season opener for the Hawkeyes, who went 17-1 last season and placed second at the NCAA Championships. Along the way they defeated Oklahoma State, 30-7, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Jan. 11. The Cowboys lead the all-time series 27-20-2 and have 11 more national team titles than the Hawkeyes (34 to 23).
“This will be two historic programs in wrestling at a historic site in Kinnick Stadium,” Barta said. “Iowa has always been on the forefront and a leader in terms of wrestling. Iowa fans are unbelievable. It is a testament to our fans that we are able to try this, and we’re confident we’ll pull it off.”
Iowa has led the nation in wrestling attendance nine straight years, averaging 8,358 per home dual in 2014-15.
On Nov. 14, 2014, the low temperature in Iowa City was 12, the high was 28. From 2010-13, the high temperature on that date was 46, 64, 56, and 46 degrees.
“We’re not going to put our guys at risk for sure, that’s No. 1,” Brands said. “As soon as safety becomes an issue, we move indoors. We have a pretty good arena right across the street here for wrestling.”
“The bottom line is, we want to have the event outside and it is going to have to take something significant to move it indoors,” Barta said.
Still, prepare for a few chills and maybe a few flurries on any day in November in Iowa.
“If the weather is bad you grow a beard and put on a stocking cap, how’s that?” Brands said.
The concept of wrestling outdoors is not new. It has been done in Europe, in California, and in New York City’s Times Square as recently as May 7, 2015.
“This isn’t an original thought. It just took us awhile,” Brands said. “It’s time. It’s time to go to Kinnick.”