The rivalry game between Iowa and Iowa State always ratchets up the intensity of both fan bases every year, even if the two programs are unranked as they are this season.
This year's game for the CyHawk Trophy on Saturday in Ames will be a bit different and not just because former President Donald Trump is expected to attend. Both schools are the subject of an investigation into illegal sports wagering that resulted in criminal charges and suspensions involving athletes.
Five Iowa State players who were projected to be starters before the season are suspended. Three face an aggravated misdemeanor charge in connection to alleged gambling, and two agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Iowa is missing at least one projected starter, who was suspended but not charged. Other football players are suspended as the two schools head into their 70th overall meeting in a series that began in 1894.
“We’d be a better team with our guys out there,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I’m sure they feel the same way. The reality is they aren’t, so we’ve all had ample time to get ready. It’s not the same, but for a coach or for the team, it’s the same as if somebody is injured. Somebody else is going to step in there and play.”
A combined 15 athletes across multiple sports at both schools were charged with tampering with records, and more than a dozen others are facing NCAA penalties for wagering on sports.
Tom Stawniak, a starting tight end and defensive lineman at Iowa State in the mid-1980s, said it was unfortunate both programs have had their images tarnished to start the season. He said the investigation brought to light something that has been going on for decades on college campuses.
Stawniak said he knew of five or six of his teammates who regularly placed illegal bets on college football and basketball games with local bookmakers even though the athletic director at the time, Max Urick, required athletes to sign a contract promising not to gamble.
“Nobody ever bet on our games,” Stawniak said. “You just didn't do that. I would have had a problem with you if you did.”
Several of the current football players are alleged to have wagered on their own games, according to court documents, and they could be permanently suspended under NCAA rules.
“That was the stupidest thing," said Garrett Yager, a season ticket holder from Urbandale, Iowa. "You’ve got to think a little bit there.”
Fans said they could understand how easily a college athlete, or anybody for that matter, could get caught up in sports wagering now that it has been legalized in more than three dozen states. Advertisements for mobile sports betting apps are common on telecasts of games and on social media platforms.
“It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit,” Stawniak said.
Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers, running back Jirehl Brock, offensive lineman Jacob Remsburg, tight end DeShawn Hanika and defensive lineman Isaiah Lee were charged. Dekkers and Remsburg this week pleaded guilty to underage gambling.
All were accused of disguising their identities on mobile sports betting apps because they are NCAA athletes and under the legal betting age of 21 at the time the accounts were set up. Iowa defensive tackle Noah Shannon was not charged but was suspended for the season by the NCAA for his involvement in wagering. The Hawkeyes have not named the other suspended players.
Michele Wiggins, a 1996 Iowa graduate who lives in Bellevue, Nebraska, said disappointment was her initial reaction to news of the criminal charges.
“I guess I wanted to be surprised, because I feel like the players should know better, especially knowing how easily tracked things are,” Wiggins said. “I also feel they're kids, and there’s always the chance they’ll do stupid things that you don’t think will mess up your life.”
Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigations opened the investigation last spring and has not said what triggered it. Fans of both teams expressed frustration that two schools separated by 130 miles in the same state are the only ones known to be dealing with the fallout of an athlete gambling scandal.
“Part of me wonders if some of the other states are doing a Sergeant Schultz,” said 1991 Iowa State graduate John Albeck of Omaha, Nebraska, referring to the 1960s sitcom character who turned a blind eye to suspicous activity with the catchphrase “I know nothing.”
Nick Allman, an Iowa State season ticket holder from Omaha, said it seems the Cyclones and Hawkeyes are being made examples of what happens if athletes are caught gambling. Added Wiggins: "What about the rest of the football teams in the nation? I’m sure if the investigation went someplace else, they would uncover a lot more.”
The fans said the gambling issue won't cast a pall over Saturday's grudge match. It's all about the football and bragging rights. Both teams won their openers last week, and the absences of the suspended players did not appear to make an impact.
“There are guys who've been waiting for their chance,” Stawniak said, “and they're just getting it earlier than they expected.”
Associated Press freelance writer John Bohnenkamp contributed from Iowa City.