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Harty: Give students free admission to Northwestern game

[ 6 ] February 24, 2012 |

University of Iowa students showed their appreciation for having free admission to Thursday’s men’s basketball game against Wisconsin by showing up en masse at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and by being a loud and distracting host.

The energy from the student section without question contributed to Iowa’s 67-66 victory over the 15th-ranked Badgers, maybe not as much as Matt Gatens’ seven 3-point baskets and career-high 33 points did, but enough to help Iowa get over the hump against a quality opponent.

The students also helped Iowa escape with a 63-59 victory over Minnesota on Feb. 1 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena by showing up in large numbers on a night when they also had free admission.

So with it already having worked so well twice, wouldn’t it make sense to also give UI students free admission to the regular-season finale against Northwestern on March 3?

I’m pleased to say that UI officials are considering that option, although, Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta is on the annual cruise with the Iowa football coaches. So that could delay anything from happening.

“There has been some discussion in the building this morning about what we’re going to do if anything,” UI associate athletic director Rick Klatt said Friday afternoon. “And there was some discussion yesterday about how that was going yesterday.

“So it’s not like we’re not talking about it. There has been some discussion about the future of free tickets for students. But all of that discussion has been among staff that we ultimately have to communicate our thoughts with Gary.”

Iowa still has to play at Illinois on Sunday and at Nebraska on Wednesday before closing out the regular season against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

It’s hard to say where Iowa (15-13, 7-8 Big Ten) will be at that stage momentum wise, considering how up-and-down the team has been this season.

But it’s easy to say that the program finally is moving in the right direction under second-year head coach Fran McCaffery.

And it’s easy to see that having a nearly full student section makes a huge difference on the court.

Who cares right now that it took free admission, free pizza and a nationally ranked border rival to entice many of the students to come to Thursday’s game.

The students came. The players fed off their energy. And together they seized the moment.

It’s easy for me to say that UI officials should make the Northwestern game free to Iowa students, but Klatt said the process of doing so isn’t so easy.

“It’s a fundamental change in how we have done things,” Klatt said. “And growing the ticket base, whether it be season tickets, faculty-staff season tickets or student season tickets, it’s a process. And getting people to attend is a process.

“So I’m not saying we would do it again or that we won’t do it again. I’m just saying it’s a bigger decision than just a Friday morning let’s-do-it-again kind of thing.”

Klatt said it’s widely assumed that the student section would be full for games as long as admission were free. But what if the men’s basketball team continues to struggle?

“If you consistently give something away, over time it has no value,” Klatt said. “So by giving our student tickets away, does that mean we’ll have 2,000 people at a non-conference game in the middle of December next year?”

That’s where winning enters the equation. Free or not, at some point the Iowa men’s basketball team has to give its students a reason to come besides saving a few bucks.

“Bingo,” Klatt said. “When we were marching our way towards a Big Ten championship under Steve Alford we had 2,800 students in the student section that paid to be there.”

My hope is that UI students will be given free admission to the Northwestern game because even it means losing some current revenue, it just seems like a good business decision in the long run.

It’s not often that you get to witness a program getting over the hump if that’s truly what is happening now under McCaffery. So why not take advantage of a unique situation by doing something unique? Why not help the team get over the hump by making it easier for students to be a part of the gameday environment?

I understand that giving students free admission could be perceived as an act of desperation, but these are desperate times with Iowa coming off four consecutive losing season and judging from how many Iowa students attend games when they have to pay for a ticket.

Letting the students in for free also could be a shot to the ego of some UI employees who are used to thinking they’re the only show in town. It’s way beyond thinking that way, though.

This is a big decision that impacts all sorts of people.

That’s why I’m only asking it be done for the Northwestern game and for any postseason games that Iowa would host this season.

Anything beyond that can be discussed after the season. And judging from what Klatt said Friday, it will be an ongoing debate.

“I don’t want to give any suggestion that it’s a done deal, that we’re going to do it or we’re not going to do it,” Klatt said. “It’s a broader discussion about how we’re going to treat students in the future; and the future as early as next week.

“This isn’t something you turn on and off like a water spigot because it’s just not the way to do things.”

That’s why I say leave the spigot turned on and let the students in for free to the Northwestern game.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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