Tom Crean, The NIT, Apathy, And a Hamilton Reference For Good Measure

This is only my fourth post of the season. How about that?

It’s not like this season hasn’t been worthy of comment, or that I haven’t watched every minute of every game, or that I haven’t had opinions. Because it has. I did. And I have.

But none of my opinions have bubbled to the surface with enough energy or conviction to spur me to write them down. And now I’m left with too many thoughts and too many opinions, on too many subjects, to narrow the focus to one or them. So, let’s start with this.

The NIT

How is this still a thing?

Look, the answer is the same as the answer to every time you’ve asked why they bothered to remake that movie you loved when you were a kid, only make it worse: Money.

The NIT wouldn’t exist if it didn’t still make money for the networks, the venues, and the universities, so let’s ignore that we actually know the answer to how this is still a thing and focus on this part.

Doesn’t it just exist to make you feel shitty?

I remember our run in the 1985 NIT characterized at the time as the goal to chant “We’re #65! We’re #65!”

I’m not saying this is funny, or clever. I’m saying that it’s been over 30 years since anyone thought of this tournament as anything other than an unnecessary and lesser version of something else that already exists, is going to be on in two days anyway, and actually means something to people.

And now, it’s “We’re #69!” Which isn’t funny either – unless you’re a 12-year-old boy. Then, it’s HILARIOUS!

So, we’re going to play in the NIT and the decision has been made – one can only assume by Fred Glass – to be the only team with the option who chooses not host a single game. We’re going to play Georgia Tech AT Georgia Tech.

I’ve heard the reasons given as “the students are one spring break” and “there are renovations scheduled.” Neither of which makes any sense at all. Students are on spring break in December and into January and we host non-conference AND conference games during that time. And the entire 2016 season was played with the building under construction.

These are dumb and lazy excuses to not host one or two games, but the real reasons can’t possibly be any more valid. Here they are, best I can guess.

  1. We don’t want to host the games in a half-empty arena. – Dumb. We hosted lots of games from 2009-2011 in a half empty arena. Did you see the balcony shots of the last few homes games? Empty. Have you ever been to an IU football game? Half empty. If you’re going to play and you can play at home, play at home.
  2. Playing a home game costs us more money than flying everyone to Georgia to play an away game where Georgia Tech gets to keep all of the ticket and concessions revenue. – I know nothing about how this works, but I’m certain this is false. So, maybe with the Simon Skjodt money we’re all good now and no longer need revenue.
  3. Let’s not draw national attention to what a dumpster fire this season has been by having our own fans show up and boo the coach and the team live on TV. – Maybe, but doesn’t being the only team to turn down a home game shine just as big a spotlight on the state of the program as the booing?
  4. Fred Glass has hired movers to come in clean our Crean’s office on Tuesday and this is a great excuse to get him out of the building so he can change the locks. – I know how happy this would make many of you, but it’s just impractical. You don’t have to ship 30+ people to another state just to fire one guy.

So, we’re playing in Georgia. There’s no reason for it that makes any kind of sense. This season will limp to the finish line with a fan base that is AT BEST apathetic and AT WORST full hot on the deal.

I’m beginning to get a notion for why this is only my 4th post of the year.

The Coach

Cards on the table, I’ve been fired from jobs before. It sucks. I’d like to say that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but I would wish it on my worst enemies. I’d also probably wish it on people who I don’t like very much. I may even call for the job of the guy I’ve never met who didn’t fill in that pothole the other day. But I’m not much into calling for coaches to be fired. And I won’t do it here.

Having said that, I’m fine if Crean moves on, either on his own, or with some help. It’s fine with me. That does not mean that I was wrong to support him these last three years or that the Freaners were right all along. I was right then. You were wrong. Circumstances have changed, so the appropriate outcome can change too.

There’s this thing I do every year, usually around this time of year, where I just decide that winter is over and I’m not wearing my heavy coat anymore. Even if the temperature outside is only going to get to 35, screw it. I’m done with winter. I’ll wear a sweatshirt and a hat, but this jacket is staying inside. Winter is over.

Because the thing is, eventually, I’ll be right. I’ll just have been ahead of the curve.

This is stupid, but I do it anyway. And the same logic applies to the Freaners. Eventually, Crean was going to leave IU. The time may well be now. Or it may be next year. Or it may be in 20 years. When he leaves it doesn’t mean he should have left in 2014. Just like a 65 degree day in May does not mean I was right not to wear a coat in late February.

Crean was the absolute right man for the job in 2008. We needed a good coach who could rebuild the program, stabilize the fan base, recruit good kids who would go to class, and not break the rules. He did all of those things – mostly.

He also got us back to a #1 ranking and two Big Ten Titles in Four Years, which again, is a big deal.

Look at where we are. Look at where we started. That should be enough.

But it’s not. Not now. It’s time to take the next step back to where IU basketball should be. And if Tom Crean isn’t the guy to do that, if he’s the guy to rebuild, stabilize, and legalize your program, but not the guy to average 25 wins and sweet 16 each year while following the rules and getting good recruits in who go to class, that’s fine.

And that’s where we are now. Thanks to Tom Crean, we’re no longer a fan base recovering from the scandal of firing Bob Knight, or the scandal of hiring Kelvin Sampson. We’re a two-time Big Ten champion this decade with a slew of guys in the NBA, updated facilities, and enough distance from the shadow of a man who will never enter the building again, that the program can be what it should be: on par with Duke, Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas. And better.

Apathy

I know I’m not alone in my struggles to care about this team to the same level I once did. I see lots of fans posting on-line about how they’ve chosen to not watch games – a decision they never made before. I’ve seen the empty seats. The general mood of the fans is not great.

I gave up my season tickets a couple of years ago. Mostly this was a financial and logistical decision – I live in Chicago and I couldn’t rely on the secondary market to take my tickets off my hands when I couldn’t drive down for a Tuesday night game. But I haven’t regretted it.

My son is five now and we’ll probably make the trip to a game next year, regardless of who the coach is. He’s begun to express interest in IU basketball and is now asking to watch old IU games on days when we aren’t playing, so we’re going to watch the entire 1987 season. We started last night with the exhibition against the Soviet National Team.

This should be fun.

But this brings me to one last point I want to make.

Nostalgia

In what was a pretty spotty last season of South Park, the central theme was that Star Wars: The Force Awakens wasn’t actually any good, we just thought it was good because it made us feel the same way we felt as kids – largely because it just ripped of the original movie. And that this nostalgic approach to our current reality, our collective desire to feel safe, and taken care of like when we were kids, was the same thinking that lead to a Trump presidency. If MAGA isn’t the theme of people who just want things to be like they used to be – back when things were awesome! – then I don’t know what is.

It was a strained premise, and I liked The Force Awakens quite a bit.

But, this idea of spending all of our present trying to relive the past, or to recreate the amazing-ness of a time that maybe wasn’t that amazing if you’re really honest about it, is unhealthy. Bob Knight was a great coach for about 20 years, a very disinterested recruiter for about 10 years, and giant curmudgeon his entire life, and a complete horse’s ass like 95% of the time.

Spending your time staring into the Mirror of Erised, or reminiscing about how fast you could throw that speedball by someone back in high school, is a fantastic way to make terrible decisions in the present.

And I’m saying this as someone who is deeply in love with the history of IU basketball, who has developed and is continuing to develop a personal digital catalog of IU basketball games that should make you tremble at it’s might.

The measure of success for IU basketball moving forward isn’t Bob Knight. And we need to stop thinking that it is.

Success

The measure of success is this. Look around at the other programs people consider blue bloods, Duke, Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, maybe UCLA. Look at present-day successes, like Michigan State or Pitino’s Louisville teams (hookers notwithstanding). How do they perform year over year? How do they schedule?

The answer, is an average of just over 25 wins a year and just over 3 wins per NCAA appearance (that’s Sweet Sixteen). It’s final fours. For IU it’s Big Ten titles. Ignore what UK and Kansas are doing with conference titles, because those conferences are jokes and always have been.

We’ve gotten there with Big Ten titles, but even ignoring the immediate post-Sampson year – which we should do here – we’ve fallen well short of the other measures. Our best year was their average. That’s not good enough. We’re missing the consistency.

 

 

Jeff Taylor