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Civic Skinny

More Register buyouts. Drake got $300,000 for ISU game. Beating patsies earned Ferentz $500,000 bonus in 2018.


Iowa State University paid Drake University $300,000 to play that football game in Ames on Dec. 1.

The figure apparently has not been reported.

Drake also got 300 free tickets and free admission for the marching band, mascots and game workers. And parking passes for one truck, four buses and six cars.

Big-time schools regularly schedule weak, non-conference teams so they can pad their records and look more appealing at bowl-selection time. And, often, a win over a patsy can mean thousands of dollars in bonus money for the coaches. Sometimes, a cupcake win can make a team eligible for one of the 40 college football bowls — which also adds to a coach’s pay.

Until the 2018 season, for instance, Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell’s contract called for a $500,000 bonus in each season that his team won at least six games — half of the schedule. Iowa State usually plays three non-conference games — one against Iowa and two against teams that usually are easy to beat, teams like the University of Northern Iowa or Akron or South Dakota State or, a 2019 foe, the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

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So Campbell went into each of his first two seasons probably having to win just four of his nine Big 12 conference games to get the bonus money or to get a bowl invitation — and, for him, a bowl victory means another $100,000.
(Campbell’s latest contract, signed in June, took out the six-win bonus but increased his guaranteed pay and supplemental deals to at least $3.5 million from $2.1 million. It kept the bonus for a bowl victory. He didn’t get the six-game bonus in 2016, when his record was 3 and 9, but did get it with an 8 and 4 record in 2017.)

There’s no reason for a small college to offer itself up as a sacrifice to the football gods in Ames or Iowa City or Lincoln or Madison, of course, except for money. Without big television contracts, most small colleges lose money on athletics — UNI supplements its athletic budget with about $4.5 million from funds generated by tuition or state appropriations. So athletic directors are more than willing to send their teams to slaughter for a price.

And the checks are getting bigger and bigger.

In the 2018 season, for instance, the University of Iowa paid Northern Illinois $1 million to come to Iowa City for the opener on Sept. 1 and paid UNI $600,000 for a game two weeks later. Iowa won both games, and those victories plus a win over the third non-conference opponent — Iowa State — helped the Hawkeyes finish with an 8-4 record. Those three victories allowed Coach Kirk Ferentz to get an eight-win bonus of $500,000.

They also assured that the team would get a bowl invitation — meaning he’d get another $100,000, at minimum.
The Drake-Iowa State deal was a last-minute Hail Mary by Iowa State. Its Sept. 1 opener against South Dakota State was canceled because of the weather, so it scheduled a Dec. 1 game against the University of the Incarnate Word, a school in San Antonio that plays in the Southland Conference. But Incarnate Word had an out. It could cancel the deal if it got into the playoffs of its NCAA subdivision, and it did.

Iowa State was left scrambling, and it called on Drake. The teams played annually from 1900 to 1965, but they hadn’t played since 1985. Everyone expected a blowout. The oddsmakers had Iowa State by 42 points. But Drake showed up to play, not just to cash in, and the Bulldogs led late in the third quarter. Iowa State came back to win, 27 to 24, but Drake went home with its pride.

And with $300,000. …

There has been another wave of buyouts at the Des Moines Register — prompted by a warning that there would be layoffs if people didn’t sign up. The list includes folks with a lot of institutional knowledge.

Among those leaving is Kathy Bolten, who joined the paper as a part-timer in 1978 and signed on full time in 1980. She has been an editor and reporter and currently covers education. Political reporter Bill Petroski also is leaving. Patt Johnson, who covers the openings and closings of stores and seems to have a byline or two every day, is going, along with writer Mike Kilen, photographer Rodney White and sports reporter John Naughton. Earlier, CITYVIEW noted that artist Mark Marturello also is leaving.

“I’ve been blessed to be able to do good journalism in my hometown, meet an array of Iowans, shine a bright light on issues that needed addressed, and work with some really great people.” Bolten says. “I’ll miss it, but I hear there is life after The Register!”

Petroski, 67, joined the paper in 1981. “I’ll genuinely miss the place,” he said, and despite the cutbacks of recent years he says he still tells “young people this is a great place to come and work and have fun while you are learning a lot about journalism.” He notes that two of his former colleagues now cover the White House — Jeff Zeleny for CNN and Jennifer Jacobs for Bloomberg News.

But the buyouts will be felt by editors and readers. The list includes “lots of fine people who make the place run,” says one Register old-timer. “This one is painful.” …

The Nyemaster law firm, which recently took over the job of defending the state against the bias and defamation claims of former Workers Compensation director Chris Godfrey, has submitted its first bill to the state: $196,397.36. That’s on top of the $1 million the state had paid the LaMarca firm, which recently resigned from the seven-year-old case when lawyer George LaMarca decided to retire. The case has yet to go to trial. …

While millions and millions of dollars were spent on the gubernatorial election, with at least one statehouse seat —Democrat Kristin Sunde’s ouster of Pete Cownie — costing more than $1.2 million, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald was elected to a ninth term by spending less than $50,000. He beat Republican Jeremy Davis with 55 percent of the vote.

Attorney General Tom Miller spent a bit less than $200,000 in getting elected to a 10th term. The Republicans didn’t even field a candidate, and Miller beat Libertarian Marco Battaglia with 76 percent of the vote. ♦

Cal Lewis

There is, at Gray’s Lake, a gently sweeping bridge along the southern lip, a bridge for bicyclists and walkers and puppies and children by day, a bridge whose muted lighting is reflected in the waters by night, a bridge that has come to define the lake and the park around it.

There is, at Orchard Place, a small square greenhouse that seems to soar, though it’s barely two stories tall, and that doubles as a gathering place for residents. Named Club Chris, for a boy who died 25 years ago, the neon sign is in the handwriting of the boy himself, copied off of his driver’s license.

There was, at 715 Locust St., a newsroom that was bright and cheery but designed in the mid 1970s not to intimidate clutter-happy reporters or crimp their hectic comings and goings but to bring openness and light into a once-gloomy place.

And there is, downtown, a handsome Civic Center, lined up to be true to the directions on the compass to set it apart from the downtown grid, which is askew in relation to the axis of directions.

The bridge, the greenhouse, and the newsroom were designed by Cal Lewis. The Civic Center was designed by Chick Herbert, though Lewis played an instrumental role.

Lewis was among the first — probably the first — of the acolytes of Herbert, who for 25 years or so set a high architectural standard for Des Moines. Today, his professional progeny populate several firms here, adding their own careful flourishes to what they learned at his knee in the second-floor offices of the old Fleming Building.
Lewis had an artist’s eye — witness the graceful bridge. And a writer’s love of detail — witness the boy’s signature. He understood the hopes of the client — witness the newsroom designed for chaos. And he had a flair for understatement — witness the positioning of the Civic Center.

And he was as kind as he was talented. Watch him coach some little kids in soccer — no yelling, no humiliation, no favorites. Some gentle instruction. An arm around a shoulder. A simple lesson.

Or talk to the students he taught at Iowa State, where he became a professor and head of the Department of Architecture, bringing new prestige to the school. (He was an Iowa Stater through-and-through, being a Big Eight all-conference football player as well as a sterling student in the class of 1970.)

He could be stubborn — a friend wanted to make that clear — but the stubbornness was in pursuit of excellence, an excellence that could be costly for a client and not necessarily noticeable to the unpracticed eye. To him, every detail had a purpose. Notice the curved wood features in a large room hidden away in an old Tudor home — they match the curves of an old rolltop desk that was a centerpiece in the room. The devotion to detail was remarkable.

Cal Lewis won about every award an architect could win; he was one of just a handful of architects ever to be honored by his peers with the Medal of Honor of the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Calvin Fred Lewis had a huge impact on this city and on a generation of Iowa architects.

He was 72 years old when he died unexpectedly at home on Nov. 24. ♦

— Michael Gartner

Gene Raffensperger

Everything and everyone seemed to amaze Gene Raffensperger.

Or amuse him.

That’s why he was such a great newspaper reporter.

He started as the Des Moines Register’s campus correspondent at the University of Iowa in 1950, the year his father, Leonard, became head football coach at the university. (They both lasted two years in their jobs — Leonard was fired, and Gene, who had transferred in after two years at Antioch College, graduated.)

“Raff” — few people called him Gene — joined the paper full time in 1955 when he got out of the Army. But for an ill-advised year working as a public-relations person for Deere & Co. in 1967, he stayed at the Register until he retired in 1993.

He started as a police reporter, working out of an office at the police station from late afternoon until around 2 in the morning, chronicling the petty and the significant for Register readers. The police beat “taught you check, check, check,” he told an interviewer in 2002. “You learned all the gritty things that reporters need, and you just absolutely became a really strong reporter on the basics.”

He put in stints as city editor and sports editor, but he was always happier when he was reporting, either out of the police station, the newsroom or, for more than five years, the bureau in Davenport, which he had opened in 1961.

In those years, he seemed to be everywhere in eastern Iowa.

He uncovered — and then covered, for three years — an awful dispute between the Amish and the state, which insisted that Amish children go to public schools rather than the sect’s one-room schoolhouses. He covered tragedies and celebrations, stories of joy and stories of sadness. Wherever there was news, there was Raff. He was always there. In those days, the Register was a statewide newspaper, and — from the news gathering aspect — he was the “statewide” in that definition.

On the beat, he had a sense of urgency and a sense of humor. (He once sailed his hat into an office ahead of a scheduled interview with a man who was mad at the newspaper. He explained that he sent the hat first “to see if you shot at it.”)

In the newsroom, he had a kind heart and a booming laugh. He was a great story-teller, often making himself the butt of those stories. And he had a great sense of logistics. Over his career, he managed to arrive at almost each of Iowa’s 101 county courthouses — or all of them, some say — at precisely the moment he was in need of a men’s-room stall, a feat that became newsroom lore and that he alluded to in a 1985 article urging state senator George Kinley not to move ahead with his bill to abolish two-thirds of Iowa’s courthouses.

“Senator, you are proposing to close the 101 best located, best maintained, most accessible, most identifiable restrooms in Iowa,” he wrote.

“Close if you must the auditors’ offices, and abolish the weed commissioners. Move license-plate sales from the treasurer to the Statehouse. But, please, senator, don’t close courthouse restrooms. Your withdrawal of this proposal will be a relief to all.”

The bill went nowhere.

Gene Raffensperger was 89 when he died of heart failure on Nov. 13 in Cedar Falls. ♦

— Michael Gartner

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