Crossroads Classic a double-edged sword for Indiana #iubb

This story was originally printed in Friday’s Herald-Times:

The genesis of the annual Crossroads Classic was something of a pet project for the athletic directors at Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler.

The idea was to resurrect the old Hoosier Classic that pit the four major in-state programs against one another to give basketball fans statewide something to get excited about around the holidays. In the four years since its inception, the event has accomplished that, and if a three-year extension signed during the summer is any indication, it’s not going anywhere.

For Indiana, there are two sides to that equation. On one, the Crossroads Classic allows IU fans around the midstate area to see the team play annually in a unique setting at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Hoosiers will face Butler on Saturday at 2:30. On the other hand, committing to the Crossroads Classic through the 2019 season has cost Indiana a chance at other major marquee games on its non-conference schedule.

But, at least right now, IU athletic director Fred Glass says the Crossroads makes sense for Indiana.

“It’s a great event for Indiana University basketball fans, especially those in central Indiana who maybe aren’t ticket holders and don’t get a chance to see the Hoosiers live,” Glass said. “This time of year, around Christmas time, I think it’s created a lot of tradition with fathers and daughters, and grandpas and grandsons. I know there are a lot of Indiana University people around Indianapolis who have made this part of their holiday tradition, so I think it’s just a great opportunity for our fans to see their team in a little bit of a different context and a little bit of a different venue.”

When the original deal for the event was signed in 2010, it called for a two-year trial run that followed through to success. In July 2013, the athletic directors at the four schools signed an extension through the 2016 season, before adding three more seasons to the contract five months ago.

During this past offseason, IU coach Tom Crean said Indiana was approached about playing in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic, an event that sought to pit the four most decorated programs in Division I history — North Carolina, UCLA, IU and Kentucky — against each other at Chicago’s United Center, but that event is also scheduled for this weekend.

Indiana has, in the past, sought to work with Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the three other programs involved with the Crossroads Classic to flex the event to another weekend so that IU could accommodate different scheduling freedoms — such as the CBS event.

“Not surprisingly, we haven’t been able to catch lightning in a bottle and get everybody to do that,” Glass said.

Ohio State was eventually added as the fourth team in the CBS Sports Classic. It would have been a boost in prestige for Indiana’s schedule, but the program would likely welcome an opportunity to schedule a similar event in the future, on top of scheduled matchups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and next year’s Gavitt Tipoff event against a Big East opponent.

“Any time you commit to one thing, you’re limiting yourself from doing other things,” Glass said. “It’s the time of year when there are some really cool events like the one in Chicago. We’ve had some other opportunities that we’ve had to pass on due to our commitment to the Classic, but we think the Classic is a great thing in its own right. … With any scheduling thing, it has prevented us from doing some other things that would be pretty cool to associate our program with other basketball royalty from around the country.

“So, yes, I’m disappointed that we sometimes miss out on that, but on the other hand, if you sit around and leave all your dates open, you’re not really accomplishing much anyway. I think our fans — while I also think they believe it’s pretty cool if we’re playing other royalty in other cities — (the Crossroads Classic) has some benefit (for them). The fact that we’re playing this game in Indianapolis, where some people don’t always get a chance to see Indiana will get a chance to see Indiana, I think that’s worth doing.”

Glass said the program makes money off the Crossroads Classic, but not as much as it could by adding another home game in Bloomington. So, more than anything, the event is not purely about making money, but reinvigorating an old event and giving it a new life and new tradition with the four in-state powers.

“In an era where we’re losing so many traditions, whether it’s the whole debacle of IU-Kentucky, a home and home, or some of the rivalries in both football and basketball that have been pulled apart because of realignment and so forth, I think people thirst for these traditions.”

The IU athletic director also noticed comments made last week by Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who suggested after IU’s 94-74 loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 9 that the two programs ought to meet annually, beginning with a two-game series at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Glass said it’s a series worth pursuing, but added he would also look into the possibility of a home-and-home component.

“My preference is to always have a campus component,” Glass said. “We haven’t gotten to that point (in any discussions), but I read those same comments and made a mental note to circle that and sit down with (U of L athletic director Tom Jurich), as well as Tom Crean and coach Pitino and explore that. I think that’s worth exploring. My bias would be to have a campus component, but I don’t think it has to be solely a campus component. I think the idea of maybe trying to set a new record at Lucas Oil Stadium would be fun.”