Peterson: How hard is this? Get to the bottom of Iowa marching band saga

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Views from inside the set of ESPN’s “College GameDay” outside of Jack Trice Stadium before the Iowa vs. Iowa State football game.
Kelsey Kremer, kkremer@dmreg.com

If fans can’t act like adults — and if administrators of our two largest state universities can’t do better in preventing their fans from abusive behavior whenever Iowa and Iowa State play a football game — then Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s suggestion Monday about possibly ending the Cy-Hawk game is not so outlandish. 

But that’d be a pretty sad reality if administrators and law enforcement authorities can’t figure out a way to prevent the bullying that everyone knows happens during this game — regardless of where it’s played.

But I’d rather the schools emphasize this before we kill off this game. 

  • First, school leaders need to clearly state this abusive fan behavior is not tolerated. That is a message that needs repeating throughout the year, not just in a joint statement. More civility toward one another is only going to help. 
  • Have the home band form a tunnel through which the visiting band walks from bus to stadium, and then from stadium to bus.
  • Crack down on drunkenness at the game sites. And anyone found guilty of unlawful actions against anyone loses their license to go to games there ever again. Want to throw a beer at someone? Hope you like watching from your couch from now on. 
  • Create and advertise at the game a functional, anonymous text line for attendees to use if they notice abusive behavior around them. (Fans at Iowa State games can call the guest services line to report concerning behavior at 515-296-7849). 

And if you don’t feel confident that you can better improve the safety of your visiting students by Sept. 12, 2020, then find someone else to play until you can.

It’d be a shame. These school presidents and athletic directors who are paid so handsomely to lead during situations like this … well, now’s a good time for that. 

Truthfully, this state doesn’t need this embarrassment, regardless of where the game’s played. It doesn’t need the words, “Iowa reopens investigation,” crawling across the ticker of last Saturday’s nationally televised Notre Dame vs. Georgia game.

And for the kids who serve in these marching bands, feeling threatened and possibly hurt by opposing fans is not what they signed up for. 

If everyone can’t get along within the framework of the law, then this hot-button game needs a timeout. 

That’s extreme, I know.

Can’t we please just play nice? How hard is this?

What is it about a football game that gets a few goofballs to act so badly toward their fellow Iowans? 

Fans — and band members — should expect the same crowd-pleasing safety at Cy-Hawk games that they currently enjoy while attending a game against Northern Iowa or Drake. 

I bring this up after reading and watching Harreld’s comments Monday to the Daily Iowan. They were his first comments about the incidents alleged by Hawkeye band members from the Sept. 14 game in Ames — that ribs were broken, band members were bruised after being pelted by a beer can, and, in one allegation, a sexual assault.

“I’m not convinced at all that we should play this game again — here or there or anywhere — unless we can protect our fans, our band and, of course, our athletes,” Harreld told Iowa’s student newspaper. 

He later softened, saying he’s “clearly expecting we can work through this.”

In the interview, Harreld suggested a meeting among administrators and band directors from Iowa State, Iowa and Northern Iowa as well as law enforcement officials. Topics would range from the number of on-site security personnel, to stadium entrance and exit plans for the band.

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“There’s a lot to document here, and I think we need to have a series of conversations, and when we get there — if we get there — then I think I’ll consider playing this game again,” Harreld said. “But I’m not going to put our band or our students or our athletes in harm’s way.

“Something happened, and it isn’t right, and we can all do better. I’m not just talking about in Ames; I’m talking about Iowa City, too. It works both ways. We can all improve. We should take this opportunity to improve.” 

Our path to Harreld’s statements casting the game in doubt has been dizzying. 

The Iowa band allegations weren’t immediately reported to campus police, and they weren’t public knowledge until Iowa athletics director Gary Barta released a statement last Monday, saying the university was investigating.

In a joint press release last Wednesday, Barta and Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard said they were closing the investigation. It was re-opened after band members posted their accounts from game night on social media, slamming university officials for failing to support them.

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This has been confusing and frustrating. 

On Monday, Iowa State police again told the Register that no criminal complaints have been filed by Iowa band members.

If Iowa wants to take this seriously, then they need to alert police to any information they know. Harreld made a plea for that on Monday.

“I could really use help — we could all use help — to the extent anybody has video or photos or direct experiences, and they haven’t been able to tell those stories, please contact us or the police or anybody else,” he said.

Interrupting the series is extreme. It’s very extreme.

And perhaps Harreld’s statements seem outlandish, too. 

But maybe the risk of temporarily losing this game is what we need to wake up and commit to a simple standard: that we won’t tolerate abusive behavior. 

Randy Peterson is the Iowa State columnist for the Register. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.

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Source: Des Moines Register