Run off a list of the ultimate basketball schools and you’d get names like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and most certainly Indiana. The candy-striped pants wearing Hooisers only share a name with quite possibly the most famous basketball movie of all time. Indiana, especially when they’re winning, is college basketball in the same way that Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame and a host of other schools are college football.
And the basketball team isn’t the most important team on campus. In fact, it’s not even close.
“Football is really critical to everything we’re doing. We’re all about 24 sports, one team, but football has a disproportionate impact on the university and the program,” Indiana athletics director Fred Glass told the Indiana Daily Student. “For better or worse, fairly or unfairly, people tend to equate the quality of your football program with the quality of your university.”
When you’re the athletics director at a school with three bowl wins – total – in school history, that’s a problem.
“Indiana University is an excellent institution of higher education, and traditionally our football program hasn’t lived up to that excellence,” Glass said. “So I think that’s important from football’s perspective.”
That’s why the Kevin Wilson hiring was so important. Importing an offense that can win without elite talent, Wilson went 1-11 his first year, rose to 4-8 in 2012 and stands at 3-3 to date in 2013.
“I think the stakes are really big for football,” Glass said. “We’ve been treating it as such by making investments in people and our coaching staff, our strength and conditioning coaches, our sports nutritionist. We’ve been investing in infrastructure in Memorial Stadium.”
Equally important to the numbers on the scoreboard are the numbers at the gate. Attendance is up more than 2,000 per game over the year before Wilson’s hiring. If the Hoosiers can find a way to get another 8,000 or so fans per game through the Memorial Stadium turnstiles, Glass says the Indiana football revenue would double.
“If we were able to sell out Memorial Stadium, we’d be able to double our football revenue, and that’s money that wouldn’t only be reinvested into football, it could also help support all the other programs in the department,” said Glass.
But the thing about football in particular that makes it so important to a campus is the lasting effect that it carries. Selling a $40 student ticket package today could lead to thousands of dollars for the university decades from now.
“I think football is a real binder, a real glue, between the university and its students, and then ultimately when those students become alumni,” Glass said. “I believe if people went to football games as undergraduates, they’re more likely to come back to football games as young alumni and ever-maturing alumni. If they stay connected with the school that way, they’re more likely to make a gateway gift to the foundation or become a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board to the J-school or the business school or the college.”