Before the Iowa football team even had a chance to leave the field, after a thorough beat down at the hands of Penn State, the fans in Kinnick rained a chorus of disapproving boos on the team. Many of those fans later took to the internet to clarify their booing was aimed not at the players, but rather their coaching staff; specifically Kirk Ferentz.
As ticket-holders, fans have the right to boo. This is not about the First Amendment; it's about showing a little class and respecting the efforts of student athletes, regardless of how you feel about their head coach’s salary.
The argument by those who booed and later claimed to have been voicing their displeasure with Ferentz and/or offensive coordinator Greg Davis for their schematic approach, are flawed and shortsighted. Not because they turned up the volume on the perceived failure of the coaches' approach, but for assuming a 22-year-old student athlete with the weight of a program in turmoil on his shoulders could decipher the message.
Some fans claim to have been booing coaches for not giving backup quarterback Jake Rudock an opportunity to get some game experience when there was nothing more at stake.
I actually agree that a blowout loss would have provided the right opportunity to get Rudock some snaps. I disagree that it is a justification for booing, which only reinforces to the player in question that 70,000 people have turned on him.
"No, James, we're not booing you for sucking, we're booing the coaches for allowing you to suck. Don't take it personally."
It is easy to marginalize booing as fans' meager attempt to inspire changes, either in personnel or approach. The deeper motivation is presumably the anger that the product on the field falls drastically short of expectations.
One of the intangibles paramount to a program's improvement is the confidence of the young men tasked with executing on the field. When a team is roundly embarrassed the way the Hawkeyes were against Penn State, their confidence is sure to suffer. Booing from their home crowd only serves to compound the problem.
This stance is often dubbed a "loser mentality." It is not.
Encouraging fans not to boo college teams is not the same thing as telling them they should obey the applause light as though they were the unlucky studio audience for a painfully unfunny sitcom.
If you don't approve of the direction a program is going, you could always stop attending the games. This is often referred to as the Purdue approach.
Because college football has become such big business, fans have developed a tendency to view athletes at the large revenue-generating programs in the same light they view professional athletes. That line has become increasingly blurred, given the amount of money involved and the escalating narrative regarding the potential for paying college athletes.
Should such hypothetical measures become a reality, it would be easier to make the case for booing, but as it stands, we’re still talking about student athletes.
The $3.8 Million Elephant in the Room
Perhaps the most common justification for all the frustration from Hawkeye fans is the team’s performance and perceived direction of the program against the backdrop of Ferentz’s massive salary.
As I have written, I am a Ferentz fan. I like him as a coach and as a man, and I believe he is the right head coach for Iowa. Does this mean I think he is worth the value of his current contract? No.
The contract in question is awful, no question about it. The extension he signed after an incredible 2009 campaign that ended with an Orange Bowl victory never should have been offered, but if that is a fan’s point of contention, how does booing solve the problem?
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is responsible for the extension Ferentz was offered. Is it worth rattling an entire team’s psyche by booing to protest the man who accepted a ridiculous deal that ensures he will be in the job he loves until he chooses to retire? Should he have turned it down?
You might as well boo the pen he signed it with.
Don’t Be That Guy (or Gal)
The Penn State game seems to have revealed major flaws, but as brutal as the exposure of those flaws was to witness as a fan, imagine what it felt like for the team itself.
As if the frustration of being beaten to a pulp from start to finish, and watching some of their key teammates taken off the field with serious injuries in the process, wasn’t disheartening enough, the Hawkeyes got to hear a large contingency of their 70,000 faithful turn on them.
And so did 30 recruits trying to decide the best destination to spend their college careers.
For a proud fanbase, many members of which consider themselves an integral part of the program, their failure under the prime time lights was just as disheartening as that of the team they were supposed to support.