If you’re my age, roughly, you’re probably pretty lucky as a Cyclone fan. I was 16 when Iowa State won their first ever bowl game. The previous year, one of the best basketball teams in Cyclone history called Hilton Coliseum home en route to a 32-5 season before bowing out to the eventual national champs in their regional final (I shouldn’t need to tell you it was Michigan State). The basketball season immediately following that first bowl victory offered up a defense of the regular season conference title.
The first basketball memories I have were in the early 90’s when Hoiberg became the Mayor and NCAA Tournaments were the norm, even if bowl games and football wins in general were a rarity. That continued through the 90’s until Dan McCarney broke through with the football program. Eventually, things settled down and the football program has experienced moderate success and failure while the basketball program has gone through what Brent Blum has appropriately characterized as the “Lost Decade”.
So, when combining the two major sports, when were the glory years? What was the pinnacle of ISU success based off of regular season records? I’m not here to give you the definitive answer to those questions, I am however, here to supply you with the foundation of evidence to support or discount your opinion and beliefs.
I used data back to 1927 for this analysis…first, we’ll look at the combined football and basketball winning percentage for all games played. The first paragraph from above is verified with the top two seasons being the 1999-00 & 2000-01 academic year.
Following those seasons you’ll see a smattering of years in the 40’s and a couple others where the basketball team was exceptional and the football team was average, which seems to be the trend. You’ll notice most years making an appearance were some of the best years for the basketball program that were combined with mediocre football seasons. Otherwise, poor football teams tended to drag down the best of the basketball seasons.
To potentially put things in better perspective in regards to levels of competition, I did the same analysis but only factored in conference games for football and basketball. This helps to weed out some of the patsies that are more prominent to high-major programs’ schedules for both football and basketball.
As you see, when that is done the most successful seasons happened in the 40’s (in 1943-44 the basketball team made the only trip in school history to the Final 4). Otherwise, many of the seasons are repeat offenders from above, just in a slightly different order.
Perhaps the sad reality that again is apparent, is that in the past 85 years there have only been 19 where the football and basketball program have combined to have better than a .500 winning percentage.
That fact is gloomy enough that battering you with the data at the opposite end of the spectrum seemed unnecessary. Why would anyone be interested in the miserable seasons anyway? It is far more gratifying to relive the glory years, and even more gratifying to make more.