There’s one step on the college wrestling ladder that engenders contentment at the University of Iowa.
So when Penn State climbed past the Hawkeyes to the top of the sport’s attendance chart earlier this month, Iowa officials tipped their hats and began plotting strategies to regain the record.
The Nittany Lions jammed 15,996 into the Bryce Jordan Center for their Dec. 8 dual against Pittsburgh, eclipsing the previous record set in 2008 when Iowa packed 15,955 into Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a showdown against Iowa State.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Hey, good job.’ ”
Before the ink could dry in the record book, the college wrestling world pondered Iowa’s next move. Would the Hawkeyes take measures to increase Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s capacity for Saturday night’s clash against the top-ranked Nittany Lions?
It appears doubtful with the logistical hurdles and parking challenges Iowa faces in trying to cram graduation ceremonies, a women’s basketball game and the wrestling dual into the arena Saturday.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Iowa had sold 11,800 tickets for Saturday night’s dual, leaving roughly 2,900 seats still available.
“Right now our focus is on getting to sellout status,” Iowa associate athletic director for external relations Rick Klatt said. “Let’s get there and if that happens by Thursday afternoon maybe we huddle and decide what our next step is.”
The next step — whether that’s for the Penn State dual, meets later in the season against No. 5 Oklahoma State or No. 2 Minnesota — would require the Iowa City Fire Marshal’s approval to increase the capacity to 16,000 by allowing spectators to watch the dual from arena concourse.
There’s room for additional seating on the floor, but Klatt said “plopping down chairs in front of (season ticket holders) is not the right way to run your business.”
“(The attendance record) means a great deal,” he said. “As far as the University of Iowa is concerned, Iowa City, Iowa and Carver-Hawkeye Arena is the center of the college wrestling universe.”
Penn State, though, is building quite an empire with three consecutive national championships and 14 straight sellouts in the its regular home venue, Rec Hall, which holds roughly 6,300.
“It says something about their program and their fan base,” Brands said. “You can’t satisfy those fans. You put them in Rec Hall and they want more. You put them in a big arena like Bryce Jordan and they fill that up. What would happen if you put them in a bigger arena than that? It says something about their program and where they’re at right now and probably where they’re headed.”
Prior to Penn State’s record turnout, Iowa had been part of each of college wrestling’s 25 biggest crowds and all but two were in Iowa City.
“I just think it’s really healthy there’s this kind of competition off the mat,” Klatt said. “It’s really great for the sport. It’s fantastic. I know administratively we embrace it because we’re proud of what we have. We’re not going to take a backseat, but we have physical limitations we have to work within.”