Commentary: NIT debate shows IU basketball has a PR problem

Indiana basketball has a problem.

The problem is not whether or not the Hoosiers should be playing tonight’s opening-round NIT game at home.

The outrage and indignation over IU’s decision to send itself on the road is actually only symptomatic of the larger issue.

Had the Hoosiers stayed home this week and played in front of 10,000 empty seats, social media would be ablaze with pictures of a desolate arena and cries of despair regarding how far the once-mighty program has fallen.

Instead, Indiana opted for the road, a selection rife with its own bevy of criticisms — IU doesn’t want to be embarrassed by an empty home gym, doesn’t want the home crowd to get ugly in its displeasure with coach Tom Crean and is afraid to face the music while 11 other schools with students on spring break didn’t mind hosting a game.

“I think it was one of those things where we likely would’ve been criticized no matter what we did,” Indiana athletic director Fred Glass rightly discerned in an interview with Kent Sterling on 1430 AM Monday afternoon.

What Indiana basketball really has is a public relations problem.

The Hoosiers, as well as Glass, are in a lose-lose situation right now off the court that is every bit as telling as anything that happens on the court.

A week and a half ago, news broke that Indiana was pulling out of the 2017 2K Sports Classic tournament. The immediate reaction was to make a joke about how the schedule must be too difficult and which Division I “little sister of the poor” would replace the event on the IU schedule.

Indications are there was a scheduling conflict with another event Indiana was locked into that made doing both impossible, but nobody wants to hear that.

All the public sees is Indiana ducking another opportunity to challenge itself, and you know what they say — perception is reality.

Sometimes reality is also reality, and such was the case prior to the Hoosiers’ final home game of the regular season on Feb. 25 against Northwestern.

It was one of those little things that likely went largely unnoticed on the night, but it happened none the less.

Just like at every game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, there was a game ball sponsor. As usual, a presentation was made on the court pregame to David and Angela Shirley.

What wasn’t said was that David is the funeral director at Allen Funeral Home, celebrating its 100th year in business in Bloomington and attempting to celebrate the occasion by sponsoring IU basketball.

Shirley rightly had a sense of humor about the incident in an email: “Oh no! A funeral home? In the midst of a decidedly dismal season! We can’t have that. What if some unruly student whips up a disparaging chant, cheer or rant? What happens if some distinguished or intoxicated alum does the same? What kind of message are we sending to the IU community and specifically the players or Coach Crean? … Funny right?”

Funny? Yes.

But also, pardon the pun, it’s another nail in the coffin for the current construct of the Indiana basketball program, which has lost all benefit of the doubt among most of its constituents.

As a matter of fact, it seems we’re just a coach calling in sick shy of history repeating itself in a complete and utter meltdown.

When the public is relentlessly critical of whatever direction the program steps, and the program is continually hiding behind the skirt of marketing or administration, there is a problem.

It isn’t in Indiana’s competitive interest to go on the road for the NIT. Winning the game, even at a one-third capacity Assembly Hall, would be much easier at home than on the road. It’s simply a decision driven by public relations.

It isn’t in IU’s best interest to not announce the name of the company that paid to be a game ball sponsor, but the decision not to do so was driven by — you guessed it — public relations.

But no amount of public relations can fix what is irreparably broken — a fanbase and a program that have fractured on and off the court.

Something has to change, and it’s the kind of change that only Glass can make.

It just comes with one caveat: Don’t make the wrong change, or you’ll have the same problem all over again.

A public relations problem.
Sports writer Jeremy Price can be reached at 812-331-4342 or jprice@heraldt.com. Follow him on Twitter @JPPrice.

27 comments

  1. The change needed is the hiring of a HIGH PROFILE COACH, to keep I U’s men’s basketball image from falling any lower. Filling the seats in SSAH for next season will be larger problem than the empty seats for an meaningless NIT game, if the high profile coach isn’t in place for next season. Who that high profile coach might be is above my salary classification to solve.

  2. This is what is commonly referred to as a swan song. I’m sure if Fred Glass could have arranged to have the game played in the Kingdom of Swaziland with no television and only artists’ renditions of the actual play on the court he would have gone there.

    I’m also pretty sure he’s hoping for a Yellow Jacket victory so this nightmare will end. If not, then the boo birds will be waiting for CTC at AH for the next round if IU is the higher seed. He will only have delayed and, perhaps, intensified the angst among Hoosier fans. Or, would he turn down yet another home game for the chance to play in some basketball paradise like Shreveport?

    Maybe Fred should hire Kellyanne as his spokesperson.

  3. They had a PR problem when they met behind closed doors in a so-called “committee room” to select Fred Glass.
    The ultimate ducking was keeping all fans and alumni away from the reality of how cronyism works at IU.
    Print a copy of Joey Glass’s letter-to-the-editor in the ‘Marquette Wire’ as a commentary piece in HT’s paper. Place it onto an HT website front page, as well. Show all the supporters of IU Athletics and the general public how Joey Glass, while an undergrad at Marquette, was oozing with glowing admiration for Tom Crean long before a “committee” selected our coach… who would subsequently sit as a member in another committee room a couple months later for the selection process of his own AD.

    And while you’re discussing ducking, tell the tale again of the time Crean and Calipari took their sons on a private plane to Chicago to watch a D-Wade(when he was with Miami) and D-Rose(when with the Bulls) game. Best buddies can live the “good life” together, but they can’t manage to get their quasi AD’s to bring the fans of Indiana and Kentucky a storied border rivalry game….?

    There was never any PR problem nor will there be because town newspapers have always been the tail attempting to wag the big IU dog.

    This was a nice attempt by Jeremy. But like our basketball team, it is predictably soft. Post Joey’s letter onto your front pages. You need no further commentary around its impact in foretelling the train wreck that became IU Basketball. While IU was snooping around Kelvin’s phone records, Joey was writing that letter. Show the public how these things work. Let the public decide if its merely the son of our present AD showing harmless admiration for a coach(a coach who would soon be in a room to nominate Joey’s dad as our next AD) ……or let them decide if its the earliest PR move in the history of PR moves.

  4. Speaking of toast….? Did David and Angela Shirley speak of creanatorium options at Allen Funeral Home?

    On a somewhat related note…..
    If Kingsford College had a basketball team, would they all shoot briquettes?

    1. HA! I followed the link from Twitter that Mike Miller posted. I didn’t even see that JP made this happen.

      Dang it, Price. Sorry about that.

      And thanks Harv. Lets ask JP if he wants to keep the “Mister Magnificent” moniker. 😛

  5. I was at a Bloomingon Cadillac dealer the other day and happened to see Crean taking his Escalade in for service.
    Overheard him tell the service manager that the heated seats were stuck on the high setting.

  6. Another Indiana basketball mess. There is absolutely no reason not to play tonight’s game in Bloomington, Indiana. Empty seats? Like Greg Doyle said make the game free admission first come first serve. The seats would fill up quickly no matter what. Plus there are plenty of empty seats at a lot of tournament games. I just don’t buy it. Instead off offering free admission and rolling the dice they instead draw more negative attention towards the program. Just play the game.

    Now we have Jordan Tucker leaning towards IU depending on Creans fate. More negative attention. Would I love to have Tucker become a Hoosier? Absolutely, but….the players just can not be in charge. Between the Hiring of Mike Davis or the firing of Sampson players should not become the difference makers in a coach’s job. Hopefully the Hoosiers can hire someone to convince Tucker and the rest of the class to stay on board.

    So what is going on here? Glass has been quiet. Fans deserve to know what the thought of the administration is of the program we so dearly love. It seems to me they are setting the kids up to fail so Iu and Crean can part ways and move on, and the players going pro can go about their business. It really doesn’t make much sense for an athletic department to put their team in a disadvantage to win especially in a tournament situation. Does that make sense to anyone?

    In my opinion it all boils down to one thing…..the university and its boosters need to acquire a very very large stack of cash and make an absolute home run hire at the seasons end. Indiana Basketball needs to be properly restored to a blueblood. The time is now.

  7. HAHAHAHA “Operation Hotpocket”…good one Chet. Ben ( my opinion , for what its worth ) a home run hire might be Gregg Marshall from Wichita State….. Listening to the “experts” on seedings ..they say WS is a better team than a 5 . I have to wonder if Marshall is tired of being “undervalued” by the NCAA as a coach and his teams..a bigger stage with the new renovations might entice him away .

  8. All over the national writers/talking heads is this notion that Indiana fans are these unreasonable rubes who just don’t appreciate Tom Crean.

    Chet said it perfectly for me. Crean did a fine job and one that we appreciate. But he’s had 9 years to establish that he can take Indiana back to an elite level. The trend lines are not looking good. It isn’t just the up and down seasons, its that recruiting has taken a nosedive. The AD has done everything in its power to make sure IU has the facilities, the national exposure and revenue channels for Indiana to compete with the blue blood programs. The coach hasn’t utilized these advantages to take us to the next level.

    Hoosier fans have been INSANELY patient. They knew it would take time to build back up again. But somewhere around Camp 3, progress stalled. There is a lot of distance between where we are and the summit. And we’re gasping for air at this altitude.

    Bare with me here as I digress: I played hoops my entire life and didn’t know crap until I went to school at Indiana. It infuriated me. I couldn’t believe that grown men, who’s job it was to teach the game, were so clueless compared to friends that I played with in the Hyper. I never had more fun in my life running ball at the Hyper. The basketball IQ of the average Indiana fan probably exceeds that a majority of the people who do it for a living. This isn’t hyperbole either. And these are the people who are watching the Hoosiers at every step. They are far more involved than just watching games; they enjoy the process of a team, a program, being built. Because I love the game, I learned more and more about it from those who taught them. My basketball education started late, but I couldn’t get enough. I still don’t think I’m some swami. Not at all. But I do know smart basketball minds and Hoosier enclaves are loaded with them.

    But Midwestern values are at play, too. Hoosiers are gracious people. They are patient. They value closeness and loyalty. Yet, with their deep Hoops knowledge, their senses tell them that what they are watching clashes mightily with what they know is great basketball. They call BS when they see it. Even though they’ve had a critical eye on some odd on and off the court issues under Crean, most people weren’t calling for his job.

    Nine years in, Crean has been given every opportunity to get to an elite level. The fans have been extraordinarily patient. This isn’t just a blip year where a few things went wrong. Patterns have been established and the forward trajectory isn’t up and to the right.

    Indiana Basketball has now into it’s “malaise” phase. National writers are playing the role of Jimmy Carter, telling us that we worship the basketball equivalent of self-indulgence and consumption. That we’re the problem. We’re the ones making ourselves miserable with our unreasonable demands. If we’d put on and enjoy our Members Only jacket while celebrating our last National Championship, while being thankful that we have 5 years where we are only 2 games over .500 in the B1G. That this is as good as its gonna get.

    Hoosiers aren’t reacting well to this condescension. And the VAST majority are conducting themselves with class. They’re used the supposed sophisticates talking down to them. But they don’t back down. They never have, and never will. Crean isn’t just representative of someone they refuse to accept, he’s also unfairly the vessel for national writers who want Indiana to accept that the glory days of banners and national competition are far behind them.

    This isn’t anything personal to Crean (for most people). Indiana fans are tired of watching their high school All-Stars throttle their southern neighbors every year. Then we watch them all migrate to wearing blue and white vs cream and crimson to play college ball. We not only want those players playing here, we want to be playing that game WHEREVER it can happen EVERY year.

    They’re tired of being told by others they can’t compete anymore. Sorry Tom, but you’re the man at the top who could have changed this a long time ago. You aren’t some factory worker making middle class wages, who will struggle to put food on the table without a job and health care for you and your family. You are the highest paid state employee and the 8th highest paid coach in all of college basketball. The results are in. We refuse to accept this “malaise.” We know it can and WILL be better.

    1. That post was long enough to have a halftime performance.

      The sentiment of those you call national sports writers/columnists/television hosts is born of Establishment. They resent Indiana. We gave the West(UCLA) John Wooden. We gave the East(Duke) the surrogate West Point son of Bobby Knight. We have the best high school basketball talent per capita of anywhere in the world.
      The day Indiana hired Tom Crean was worth more to the Establishment than all the banners of NC, Duke, and UCLA combined. There is no coincidence that the Establishment loves Indiana University stuck in a basketball purgatory of clueless stagnancy.

    2. You do realize that Jimmy Carter suggested turning down the thermostat and wearing sweaters, not consumption and overindulgence.

  9. Wichita State could be on the line of a Duke in the big ten or at least Butler in big 8. With just a couple of excellent recruits and currently as Marshall as head coach the big ten is ripe for the picking. Indiana is not very good in a not very good conference.

  10. I think Gregg Marshall has one of the best gigs in college basketball comparable to Mark Few at Gonzaga unless you are just looking for another challenge. However, if IU would happen to hire Marshall or a guy like him, Fred Glass and administration would have to let him be successful. 1. He is the type that would require to do things his way 2. He is player oriented, but no nonsense 3. He implements killer instinct in players when given opportunity 4. Marshall can become testy 5. He is good. My question is would Fred Glass, administration, board of trustees let the new coach and staff (support and to what degree) run the show as long as it is above board (legal) and not subject them to blackmail by players or those who have a vested interest in a player/s due to practices player/s do not like, training requirements, team protocols, coaches expectations and rules, getting lack of playing time, benched, or even getting kicked off team. Or would he side with player/s in articles 8 and 9 of bill of rights unfairly against the coach. How trustworthy is Glass?

  11. Kent Sterling had an interesting guest on his radio show yesterday….There was this idea being forwarded that Indiana University doesn’t really care about sports being a major identifier. They also discussed McRobbie’s seemingly distant and passive approach to Indiana Athletics. They said something along the lines of him not knowing a peach basket from peach pie. I won’t take up more space….Maybe it’s on a podcast or something.

    I think there is a lot of truth to what was said….Sports at IU is losing big ground to how the university chooses to define its lure. The leadership is far more concerned with attractiveness to foreign students in their medical and science programs, etc…Athletics is of no importance to much of the changing face and cultural shifts a university wanting to sustain an international appeal.

  12. I am a life long Hoosier and playing basketball here in Indiana is a childhood pastime. It is for sure that Hoosiers know more about the game than most people that play it for a living. Any mistake made by a player or ref. is quickly noticed. In our state we deserve a coach such as Bob Knight that knows the game better than most. The fans here know when it is time for a change .If basketball is to remain so important to the people here in Indiana then we must not let be as it has been the last few years.We have some great players that are not allowed to play to their talent . Lets bring back IU basketball as it has been in the past by getting a coach that is a players coach .

  13. Ben M, there are no “absolute home run hires” to be made. No matter how much cash is raised, none of the coaches that would satisfy anyone’s definition of an “absolute home run” are available to IU. The absolute home run candidates are deeply imbedded in their current programs and it is impossible to dislodge them from Duke, Louisville, Kentucky, etc. That’s what I’ve been saying for weeks. It ain’t going to happen, regardless of how much money IU can raise to throw at the problem. It’s like me saying, “if I just lose 50 pounds, win the lottery and get a hair transplant, Kate Upton will sleep with me.” Pure fantasy, with zero chance of ever becoming reality. So, if IU is determined to fire Crean, the next best option regarding his replacement is for Fred Glass to roll the dice on a candidate that is “most likely” to develop into an “absolute home run.” And assuming we can hire that man, we then have to hope that we have the cash to keep him at IU once he achieves the level of success that The Hoosier Nation expects and demands. Because if he’s that good, I assure you there are programs out there that will be able and willing to pay him a lot more money than IU is capable of paying.

    1. Another axiom you are parroting that is dead wrong. Indiana basketball is completely capable of paying a Top 5 salary. They’re already paying for a Top 8 salary. Coach K is in the stratosphere and NO OTHER SCHOOL needs to make that investment in a coach. That is Duke’s way of keeping him from leaving for the NBA. There are zero other Coach Ks out there.

      Crean is still getting a Top 8 salary. It terms of when he signed that contract, the Indiana HC job is getting a bargain (not relative to performance, just in what the job is currently worth). Simple finance, you overpay for a coach at the beginning of their contract and they start making less relative to their peers towards the end. That’s the tradeoff of dealing with contracts with longer terms. Less risk/more guarantee = less cash. More risk, shorter terms = more money.

      Indiana’s basketball budget is just fine.

  14. I am not really a believer in the phrase “PR Problem”. The problem isn’t public relations, it is what they are trying to sell / push on the fans and they are tying themselves in knots to try and spin this in a different direction. Fans have seen this product for 9 years and they don’t like it. There have been a few highs but way too many lows for a program that is in the 9th year at a school that is willing to spend freely on coaching, facilities, recruiting, etc. They have a problem, but it isn’t PR.

  15. ^^^Exactly, winecountry. It’s been a constant push/sell job. Quality sells itself…It doesn’t require witch hunts, reunions, gotcha moments with Jeff Meyer, digging up Knight every other week, “Hoosier Rising” DVD gimmicks, “We’re Back” t-shirts, or “everything hinges” recruits arriving to part the Big Red Sea for a pilgrimage to the Final Four.
    It’s been far too long that this administration and coach have condescended to the fan base as if we’re the easily duped suckers on their used car lot.

    PR is not their problem, indeed. They are cronies of an elitist system. They are not about bringing quality basketball to McCracken. They are about protecting arrangements that keep the money in a very select group of pockets. They are in place because they are brilliant. We are the dumb asses who would have their jobs if we had half their brains and spin ability.

  16. I think you should’ve/could’ve just left PR out of the title & left it at that. Let’s try:
    “Commentary: NIT debate shows IU basketball has a problem” That my passionate friends is editorial journalism!

    The “problem” as in any organization starts at the top. Fred Glass is a problem. The board of trustees is a problem. They are the bosses of the boss of the boss of our disintegrating program. Sure, Glass has put names on buildings & built facilities, but what is the result of it? That’s right, nothing! There are no results to back up the investments. Do you want someone without a penchant for ROI running your own finances? I sure as hell don’t.

    I can’t determine whether having this game away from home help or hurts the “keep Crean” movement led by Glass. As an away game, he can now claim we lost again because “it was Spring Break”. I can hear it now.

    The plain, simple fact is that this team has all the talent it needs, and underachieved. I’m sorry perennial apologists, Hartmann wasn’t on the floor vs. KU & UNC. We won those games because of our depth.

    Now there are 2 top tier players, Blackmon and Bryant, that have nowhere to turn. They are 2nd round picks at best. They have to either come back or transfer to get better. Also note, aren’t Morgan and OG from Missouri? Just saying……

    Until the IU Administration starts caring and moves to unite the fan base, we will be mired in this muck. Let’s cut through the BS and get down to return on investment of the dollars being donated and invested. Money talks, and I can only imagine donations will be going down amongst the masses going forward. That’s when the high rollers come in and put their names on the buildings of the weak.

    1. If I was an NBA guy and had to pick one IU player it would be Davis. His upside is through the roof. IMHO Bryant looked better last year. JBJ doesn’t look any different to me than he did as a freshman.

      It’s had to see JBJ getting drafted if Yogi didn’t. Of course, Yogi’s success may help JBJ.

      I think Bryant has wonderful athletic skills but, this season, he has looked like an awkward teenager.

      Sure, VO developed into an amazing playing. I think Victor deserves most of the credit for that.

Comments are closed.