In the days leading up to the Iowa-Iowa State football game Sept. 14, the excitement among fans was palpable.
For the first time in school history, ESPN’s College GameDay announced it would descend on Ames, Iowa, for the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series showdown.
The national spotlight would bring positive attention to the state, the rivalry and both football programs.
Now two weeks later, the spotlight shining on the game has more to do with fan behavior after the final whistle than anything that happened on the field.
Never mind that it was the closest game ever in the 67 times the two teams have met. Never mind that it was played in segments with two weather delays that totaled 2 hours and 55 minutes, the longest rain delay in Iowa State history.
Yet the conversation centers around reports by the Hawkeye marching band that its members were accosted by fans as band members left the stadium. Some incidents, though not independently verified, included a band member whose ribs were broken, another bruised after being hit with a can of beer, and even an alleged sexual assault.
While there has been some difficulty sorting out the specifics of what happened that night at Jack Trice Stadium, the storyline is not hard to believe. Members of Hawkeye and Cyclone marching bands have been mocked, screamed at, sprayed with beer, spit on and worse by fans at either school, no matter where the game is played. It’s been going on for years. Athletic directors at both schools acknowledged as much in a joint statement days after the game.
“We should all feel embarrassed when students in the bands don’t feel safe when performing at an away game,” said University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and Iowa State University Athletics Director Jamie Pollard.
Indeed, the entire state can feel the embarrassment.
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld suggested the two teams shouldn’t play again unless and until the schools can find a way to keep band members, fans and athletes safe.
Has it really come to that? Has an in-state college rivalry come to the point that students aren’t safe?
It’s time for all fans to examine their own behavior. It’s a football game, not a war. We are all Iowans. Would you scream at your neighbor’s college-age kid for the color of shirt he’s wearing? That’s what fans are doing here.
The universities must make it clear that abusive behavior will not be tolerated. It must begin with meetings seeking solutions involving both schools and including student groups, student-athletes and band members. Fans should have an easy way to report abuse or extreme drunkenness. Fans who violate a code of civility should be booted — for the season.
The Cy-Hawk Trophy has been tarnished by increasingly bad behavior by fans of both teams. It’s time the universities put a stop to this dangerous trend and reclaim the positive atmosphere of college football in Iowa.