For decades, Iowa was graced by the presence of baseball to an extent where people just couldn't get enough of it, but now there isn't enough at Iowa State.
Movies have been created to showcase Iowa’s love for the game, and one of the most well-known baseball movie quotes came from Field of Dreams, a movie filmed in Dyersville, Iowa.
“If you build it, he will come.”
Iowa State built Cap Timm Field, and wins began to pour in. For 109 years, the university had a thriving NCAA Division 1 baseball program. But losses came too. No loss was bigger than when the team was cut in 2001 because of Title IX and budget constraints.
“Iowa State used to be one of the most storied and historic programs before it was cut,” said junior Justin Kelm, ISU Baseball Club vice president. “Baseball is America’s pastime.”
The Last Year
On April 21, Spencer Allen sported the purple and white of Northwestern University, but 15 years earlier, Allen proudly wore the cardinal and gold of Iowa State. That was until the baseball program was cut his senior year.
Allen, who is now the head baseball coach at Northwestern, was a team captain in 2001. To this day, he vividly remembers the day the news broke that he would be part of the last team to play baseball at Iowa State.
“They brought us into a football conference room, and Bruce Van De Velde walked up front,” Allen said. “I didn’t really know how to react other than being angry and sad.”
Allen, now several years removed from the day he was sitting in front of Van De Velde, who was Iowa State's athletic director at the time, said he understands why the decision had to be made and added that it’s never easy to bring that news to athletes.
At that time, Iowa State was in one of the best baseball conferences in the country, and Allen quickly directed his growth as a player toward that, but the biggest life lessons he learned were from representing the Cyclones on and off the field.
“I really learned a lot playing at Iowa State,” Allen said. “All the coaches treated us equally and prepared us for life beyond baseball.”
Although Allen had a handful of emotions running through him that day, he said the feelings have leveled out and he now understands that money doesn’t grow on trees. Allen also offered a suggestion on how to bring back the team that will provide a smaller burden financially for the school.
“I think having a combo stadium would be a great way to cut the cost,” Allen said. “Pairing it with a team in the Nortwoods League or a minor league team would be an option.”
Allen still wonders what Iowa State would be like if the baseball team was still a varsity sport, but for now, the dreams will have to continue to be dreams.
Jake Reichling, a freshman at the time, started the ISU Baseball Club in 2001 when he learned that the baseball program was going to be cut. The club officially took the field in the spring of 2002 after it received funding from Student Government.
What initially started as a group of about 50 players who split into four teams in order to scrimmage one another has turned into a National Club Baseball Association powerhouse.
The NCBA houses more than a hundred baseball teams for schools that can’t sponsor a varsity sport because of Title IX or budget issues. Schools that have an NCAA team and have enough player interest to field another team also compete in the NCBA.
In its inaugural season in the NCBA in the spring of 2003, the club won the Central Plains Conference. That propelled it to the regional tournament against Wisconsin, where the Cyclones lost the series 2-1. Again, in 2004, the club won its conference and fell short in the regional series.
“[The club's] success can certainly help the cause of baseball returning to Iowa State,” said junior Matt Odland, ISU Baseball Club president. “There is always that potential.”
The club has had some of its best seasons in club history in the past three years. In the spring of 2015, the club went on its best run ever in history and wound up in Paducah, Ky., playing in the NCBA World Series.
Cap Timm Field, home of the Baseball Club, is undergoing field renovations that totaled near $55,000. New dugouts, a backstop, a Cap Timm Memorial and awards plaque highlight the makeover, which is being completed by an ISU design class.
A website detailing the history of Title IX can be summed up into 15 words to describe the law that was passed by Congress in 1972: “Requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.”
In addition to the education side, the athletics side also requires equality, which is a top priority for the NCAA. Iowa State currently has six men’s and 10 women’s sports, and in order for the school to comply with the law, every sport has to have an even playing field.
“Athletics is just one element of Title IX,” said Calli Sanders, Title IX coordinator for Iowa State athletics. “There is clearly a correlation in the growth of women’s sports and when [Title IX] was passed.”
When looking at men’s and women's scholarships, the number of scholarships given to each gender must be proportional to the number of athletes. If male participation is higher, the dollar amount toward men will be higher than women, but will still be equal for female sports.
Sanders said the student body population at Iowa State in the 2014-15 school year was 56.2 percent male and 43.8 percent female, while men accounted for 53.9 percent of the athletes at Iowa State and women accounted for 46.1 percent. This means there can be slightly more male athletes than female athletes.
“There is a little bit of wiggle room, but typically if you are within 5 percent of the population you will be fine,” Sanders said. “It has been tested in the courts and we have been close to the mark for many years.”
On top of a proportionate scholarship balance, both genders must have equal resources such as coaches, facilities, practice times and travel logistics.
Title IX may have been a reason for the baseball cut, but the ISU athletic department's budget ultimately put the program to rest and has kept it at rest.
In 2001, the athletic department had a $1.4 million budget deficit, and a big portion of that came from baseball and men’s swimming and diving. The team only had an average attendance of a few hundred people in previous years, and that was too small of a crowd to generate revenue to dig themselves out of the hole they were already in.
Iowa State’s athletic department had a total operating revenue of roughly $68 million for the 16 varsity sports that Iowa State supported in the 2013-14 school year, according to Shaw Media, which acquired the financial data from the Freedom of Information Act requests sent to the NCAA. After paying for coaches’ salaries, travel expenses, equipment, etc., that $68 million in revenue dwindled to a $202,669 profit.
"I think if there was backing from donors and past players, then [reinstating a Division 1 baseball program] could be a realistic thing," Odland said. "I'd like to see a survey on what people's thoughts are on this subject."
Iowa State was one of only six Big 12 schools to break even in athletic department profit in 2013-14.
It would take roughly $15-$22 million to bring back baseball, Odland said. The bulk of that expense would come from building a field that is up to Big 12 standards.
West Virginia, a fellow Big 12 school, recently constructed a new baseball stadium that cost nearly $21 million. The Mountaineers partnered with the West Virginia Black Bears, a team in the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League.
No one knows better what the baseball club has experienced in the past four years than Chad Allmann. Allmann is a senior pitcher for the club and made an immediate impact when he first stepped onto the field.
Allmann has witnessed the growth of the fall ball league grow from 50 players his freshman year to 150 his senior year. Allmann was also there when the club was struggling to keep up with Iowa in conference play. He was also there when the club stepped onto the field in Paducah for the NCBA World Series.
“Huge progress has been made from when I first joined the club,” Allmann said. “The facilities have been upgraded, our fan base has grown and the talent of our players has grown.”
Allmann put out a step-by-step plan on what he thinks it would take to garner talk of a team returning. Step one and step two have already occurred with a World Series berth and Cap Timm Field renovations. The only step missing is a loyal fan base big enough to support a Big 12 baseball team, but he doesn’t see that taking much longer to create.
“It’s only a matter of time before baseball is back,” Allmann said. “Iowa State Alumni want it back and it may only be 10 years down the road before it returns.”