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UNI football looking for answers

Panthers have one of the smallest budgets in the MVFC but must learn to compete with nation’s top teams

Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley watches warm ups before the season-opener against Iowa State in Ames. (Associated Press/Matthew Putney)

CEDAR FALLS — After a second consecutive 6-5 season that left Northern Iowa football out of the 24-team FCS playoffs again, there are no indications football coach Mark Farley is going anywhere.

Having just completed his 23rd year as the Panthers coach, the Waukon native is signed through 2026 and continues to be dedicated to his craft and the sport, despite his program now facing the reality of having the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s second-smallest budget with Western Illinois headed to the Ohio Valley Conference in 2024.

“We all know what we want to say if you’re all about football. And I’m all about football. Trust me,” Farley said Monday. “But also know that we’re part of a greater team and we have to share in that and we have to lead that and then I have to find a way to win within that.”

Asked multiple times Monday about having one of the MVFC’s smallest budget, and whether that status quo is acceptable, Farley chose to tout positives happening within the athletics department and the university and put the onus on himself to create playoff caliber team’s despite a lack of resources.

“I’ve got to do a great job in the financial aspect of it as much as I do on the football field and the schematics of it,” Farley said. “I think the strength of our university is, no question, the UNI-Dome. The project and the renovation of the UNI-Dome is a tremendous, tremendous asset. But, then when you get to the internal budgets of what drives a program year to year, those are the things that I have to manage to create the best football team to be a playoff football team.”

Among what’s working in the football program’s favor moving forward is the continued development of its own NIL collective that Farley revealed publicly for the first time Monday — “The Legacy Collective.”

“The Legacy Collective” began in January 2023 and for the first time organized the team’s postseason banquet, holding it Sunday so out-of-state players whose families were in town for Senior Day could be in attendance.

UNI’s men’s and women’s basketball NIL collective, “The Panther Collective,” quickly gained visibility upon its inception and has been lauded by men’s coach Ben Jacobson. Farley said Monday “The Legacy Collective” will soon begin making efforts to pursue more visibility for itself.

“We’re not involved with it, because we’re not allowed to be involved with it, but at the same time they’re finding their footing,” Farley said. “Where we have to be careful is creating 10 different collectives, but at the same time that’s part of our challenge here is how to combine all of our resources to create a great program.”

Along with shortcomings on the football field, in roster construction and a budget, non-conference scheduling continues to be up for debate.

During Farley’s tenure, UNI has typically built some of the FCS’ toughest schedules, but years of hindsight suggest more risk than reward with the current approach.

Farley spoke plenty Monday about what he can control with regard to the program’s budget and building more much-needed depth on the roster, but was ambiguous when asked about his level of control over the program’s scheduling. What did seem tangible from his remarks was the budget preventing the program from getting “buy games” against lesser opponents that could ease the path toward seven wins, improve playoff chances and provide six, instead of five, annual home games.

“The great things that are going on with (what) the foundation has raised, with what our university is doing in enrollment and the things they’re doing — whether it be the business school or construction management (school) — those things will all affect recruiting and those things will all affect the dynamics of the budget, which in turn will affect the dynamics of your question of scheduling,” Farley said. “Absolutely, I’d love to get six home games. I looked at the schedules, everybody that’s in the playoffs had six home games.”

And amid everything Farley and his football program are facing and navigating, ESPN’s Pete Thamel added incredible intrigue to the situation Monday, reporting Tulane is targeting UNI’s Director of Athletics David Harris as its next hire.