Iowa Corn went way too far

BY MATT HEINZE | AUGUST 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Mere weeks from now, Iowa and Iowa State will meet on the gridiron to battle it out in this year’s installment of the Cy-Hawk Series. Thankfully, they won’t end up playing for a Precious Moments trinket.

Last week, the Iowa Corn Growers Association announced it would overhaul its newly released abomination of a Cy-Hawk Trophy, garnering intense criticism and allowing Iowans the opportunity to vote on the replacement design in the process. And although the majority of the nation probably doesn’t care a lick about the trophy, many Iowans do.

For those who don’t know, the Cy-Hawk Trophy is an award given annually, more or less, to the University of Iowa for dominating whatever incoming freshmen Iowa State found stupid enough to put pads on and march onto a football field. The trophy had long been criticized for being outdated and overly simplistic, so the decision was made to field a replacement.

The story of the trophy has since managed to become something of urban legend in the span of only a few short weeks. After years of sponsoring the oft-annual sporting event, Hy-Vee relinquished sponsorship of the big game, opting to move on to the greater potential of the Iowa-Nebraska series.

Seeing an opportunity, the Iowa Corn Growers Association picked up sponsorship and in the process, seemingly commandeered every aspect of the design process.

The initial replacement design stands as a wonderful example of what not to do when fabricating a trophy. The design, at least in concept, serves to accurately refer to our state’s significant contributions to agricultural production by depicting a young farmer showing a bushel of corn to his family. Unfortunately, the design captures an unpleasant equilibrium of “wholesome” family values and direct advertisement.

So it should come as no surprise the trophy received intense criticism by hordes of Iowans, in addition to making our state the laughing stock of the rest of the nation. Sportswriters across the nation ate it up, often considering the trophy the ugliest in all of college sports. In fact, the trophy was so ugly that both Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa football great Hayden Fry chimed in to note how ridiculous it was.

Now listen, Iowa Corn Growers Association: I don’t mind you trying to promote yourselves with a sense of subtlety, but please don’t suck the fun out of my favorite sport. Sponsorships in college football (as well as in most other college sports) have been gutting tradition for years, and it’s really starting to wear on me. While I understand there’s money and fame to be had, there’s also a sense of tradition, history, and sincerity to be retained.

Officials from both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have repeatedly asserted that the final release of the new Cy-Hawk Trophy was not the result of Iowa Corn exerting too much influence on the design process. To believe their assertions, however, would be utterly narrow-minded.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s a sense of hallowedness still present in college football, which is what makes it so darn appealing. Yes, I realize there are shady things going on behind the scenes (see Ohio State, USC, Miami, Auburn, etc.) and yes, I see corporate America’s fingerprints all over the BCS structure, but with tremendous effort, I can still see past those sore spots.

With Iowa Corn’s new Cy-Hawk Trophy, though, it’s different. The presence of such a blatant advertisement serves to undermine the pageantry of college football, along with any sense of tradition.

A trophy may not be the penultimate decider in a rivalry’s worth, but it’s certainly a worthy stand-in for the rivalry’s symbol. In the case of the Cy-Hawk Trophy, it’s also a stand-in for the state of corporate sponsorship in college sports.

It would appear the sanctity was spared, at least for now.

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