Following a brief experiment in using Arrowhead Stadium as a neutral site to stage the annual Iowa State/K-State conference match up, the game returns to Ames, IA for the first time since 2007 this Saturday. The rivalry between agricultural land-grant schools began in 1917, with Iowa State owning a slight 49-42-4 edge in victories. However, as with most of K-State’s rivalries, the Wildcats have owned the series in Bill Snyder era and enjoy an 18-4 record since 1990. A wayward attempt to put the game in the national spotlight resulted in a contract to play two games at Arrowhead Stadium in 2009 and 2010 under the name ‘Farmageddon.’ Despite its potential, the endeavor failed to draw large crowds and was scrapped in favor of returning to home-and-home games in 2011.
Why Farmageddon Should Have Worked
K-State/Iowa State is a natural rivalry. The schools have played 95 consecutive years and the series record remains close, with no team holding a significant upper hand. Additionally, the geography was optimally to accommodate both fan bases. Kansas City hosts thousands of graduates from both schools and Arrowhead Stadium is very close to both Kansas and Iowa borders. Although the drive is longer from the Ames campus (230 miles compared to 130 from Manhattan), there’s no reason a caravan of cars full of amped seniors shirking papers and job applications shouldn’t have been observed headed down the interstate from both universities.
The two games that were played were also good games. In 2009 K-State squeaked out a one point win, 24-23, and followed up the performance with a 27-20 victory in 2010. Plus they were played in Arrowhead – a destination for professional football fans from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and even Arkansas every Sunday. So you have a tight series played for 95 consecutive years dropped smack dab in the middle of two fan bases under the bright lights of a beloved NFL stadium. Set oven for 350° and watch Farmageddon explode, right?
Why It Didn’t
A natural rivalry doesn’t necessarily make a good rivalry, and this has never been a rousing rivalry. For one, there’s been no good back-and-forth. As Wikipedia’s handy table demonstrates, this series sees one team win seven or eight straight games, then the other team win seven or eight game, repeat, etc. It’s hard to get excited about a series you never win, and that’s four classes worth of students that never experience a victory each swing. K-State hasn’t led the series since 1937. Not exactly exciting stuff.
Even if a rivalry does exist, you need some excitement behind the respective teams too. I wanted to watch the game against KU last week, but wasn’t that excited because I knew it would be a blow out. I’m much more excited about the West Virginia game – in spite of the fact that the closest excuse for a rivalry with WVU is that bastard Bob Huggins slinking away to Morgantown – because there’s excitement surrounding that team. (For that matter, I’m more excited about games against TCU and Oklahoma State as well.) The same logic applies here. In 2009, 41,000 people attended Farmageddon to watch an Iowa State team that finished the regular season 6-6, and 3-5 in the conference. Attendance dipped to 38,000 in 2010, a year Iowa State finished 5-7 (3-5). Kansas State wasn’t much better those years, finishing 6-6 (4-4) and 7-6 (3-5), respectively. Those are teams that students are willing to go see at home, but not necessarily travel to go see.
Additionally, tickets to the game were not subject to student prices. A $60 ticket may not bother the average alum interested in attending games anyway, as $60 is a pretty cheap price for a seat for a Big XII game. However, students aren’t used to having cough up the extra dough to see their teams compete.
The final nail in the coffin was that Snyder simply didn’t support the event. Farmageddon negotiations got underway in the Ron Prince era. However, Snyder preferred to keep games at home (and not simply because he liked playing in the stadium named after him). While K-State has played two nonconference games at the neutral site over the past decade, Snyder has expressed a definitive interest in keeping conference games at home to support the local economy. And I’ve yet to meet the administrator capable of defying Bill Snyder.
In the end, this series was doomed to failure. There was an attempt to force a rivalry that should really only be described as a longstanding series of games. The “rivals” playing were putting a mediocre product on the field. I can see if Farmageddon had rolled out in 2012, the outcome might be different. With K-State ranked #5 and Iowa State knocking on being ranked following their upset of TCU, there’d be a lot more interest in this game. If the teams remain relevant next year and play another good game, the momentum could carry forward for another two game contract. However, it’s the students that make the game, and Farmageddon proved that these students would much rather take in the series from their own backyards than drive down I-70 or I-35 for a football game.