Big Ten: Tony Alba

More on Fiesta, Iowa and Penn State

December, 3, 2009
Let's not kid ourselves. With only two fairly ho-hum Big Ten games on the docket Saturday, the Iowa-Penn State BCS debate is the big story in the league this week.

I've already touched on it here and here, and you can see my bowl projections here, but there were a few items that didn't make it into those posts from my conversations with Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba and athletic directors Gary Barta (Iowa) and Tim Curley (Penn State).

Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba
  • On whether the bowl would be concerned about a negative backlash from taking Penn State over Iowa despite the head-to-head result: "I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. It’s certainly a consideration. But it happens. The only thing that we really have to worry about is, are the teams eligible? At that point, we’ve got to make a decision in terms of what’s best for the bowl. Sometimes, it does dictate taking a lower-ranked team, and I'm not saying that’s what we would do. Sometimes in doing what is best for your bowl game, you have to do something that may be somewhat unconventional or goes against the grain."
  • On Penn State's long history with the Fiesta Bowl (six appearances): "It works in their favor, but is it enough to get them over the hump? I don’t know. That’s something we’ll have to talk about. We’ve wanted Iowa for a long time. They won the game head-to-head on the field, and they’re more highly ranked, so those are all factors we’re going to have to weigh."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta
  • On the bowl selection process: "We know that head-to-head isn’t the No. 1 factor, final record isn’t the No. 1 factor. It’s certainly one of the factors. But when you take fan attendance, fan support, television ratings, we can go head-to-head with anybody on those also."
  • On Iowa's pitch to the Fiesta Bowl: "We certainly point out to the Fiesta Bowl what our Iowa numbers are in terms of alumni and Iowans in the area, and we share with them that piece of information. And then we, again, point to past history in other bowls. We convey to them that we're confident that our history at the Orange Bowl, at the Rose Bowl, at the Capital One Bowl, wherever we’ve been, will definitely transfer to Phoenix."
  • On his attitude if Penn State got the BCS berth: "I love the way Kirk [Ferentz] approaches it and I share his thoughts. And that is, we control what we can control, and Kirk and his team, I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished. So our work has already been done. The three bowls that I mentioned (Fiesta, Orange, Capital One), if we’re fortunate enough to go to one of those three, we’ve been to two of them, we’re very aware of the third, and any one of them is going to be a great experience."
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley
  • On Penn State's fan support for bowls: "We have a great fan base that buys a lot of tickets and spends a lot of money. We had about 30,000 at the Rose Bowl and about 35,000 at the Orange Bowl. The other day, I talked to our alumni association and they've already had 12,000 inquiries about the bowl game, and we don't even know where we're going. The interest is really, really strong."
  • On selling Penn State as a national program: "That’s part of the package we’re talking about, the TV interest. The national appeal we have with television ratings is very, very important in this day and age. The Eastern seaboard and the Mid-Atlantic region, we think we’re very strong, and then we think we have national appeal from a television perspective with over 500,000 living alumni."
  • On how he'd feel if Iowa got the BCS berth: "I wouldn’t want to put a descriptor on it that it’s a major disappointment. We've had a great year and we're going to play in a great bowl game, and like I said, we want to play in the best one we possibly can. We're going to go after it just as strong no matter where we end up."
Earlier today I had the chance to chat with Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba about the increasing likelihood of the bowl selecting Iowa or Penn State to play Jan. 4 in Glendale, Ariz.

While Alba reiterated several times that the Fiesta Bowl also is considering teams from other conferences, he acknowledged that both Iowa and Penn State are very much in the mix. If the Fiesta ends up choosing between the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions, a distinct possibility if it loses potential Big 12 champion Texas to the national title game, the decision won't be easy.

"We’ve got a long and storied history with Penn State," Alba said. "They’ve been here six times and are 6-0. We kind of grew up together, in a lot of ways. They were very instrumental in our growth and our development. ... On the other hand, you look at Iowa, and we’ve never had them. We have no history with them, but they have been on our wish list for many, many years. We’ve always tried to get them, and for whatever reason, it just never was able to work out.

"You look at both universities, and there's appeal on both sides for different reasons."

Iowa's primary argument for selection is its 21-10 victory against Penn State on Sept. 26 at Beaver Stadium. The Hawkeyes also rank higher in the BCS standings (No. 9 vs. No. 11), though Penn State is ahead in both the Coaches' and Harris polls.

What happens on the field does matter to bowls, but it doesn't mean everything. Iowa should know this after leapfrogging a Northwestern team it lost to last year for an Outback Bowl berth.

"[Iowa's win] is a factor, but at the same time, it did happen quite a while ago and Iowa now has an injured quarterback [Ricky Stanzi], so that’s certainly a factor as well," Alba said. "Now we understand he most likely will be back for the bowl game, so you have to look at the big picture. If it comes down to just between those two, the head-to-head meeting would be a factor, but not an eliminating factor."

On the flip side, Penn State can point to several blowout victories as well as its national appeal, its enormous fan base, its past bowl TV ratings and its legendary coach (Joe Paterno). But much like Iowa's head-to-head victory, these factors are only part of the selection process.

"The fact that they’ve never been here would make our destination even more attractive for Iowa," Alba said. "So from a fan standpoint, we have every reason to believe that they would travel en masse to the Phoenix area. I also believe that they’re a national program. They have a great history with coach [Hayden] Fry, one of the all-time greats. You could also classify Iowa as a national program, perhaps not to the extent as Penn State, but it's very, very close."

Alba noted that there's "no clear consensus" on which Big Ten team the bowl would choose if the opportunity presents itself on Sunday.

"If we were to eliminate everybody else and just look at Penn State versus Iowa right now, in terms of which one would get the nod," he said, "in all honesty it may be a coin flip at this point."