Column: Indiana Misses An Opportunity With NIT In Georgia

Sam Beishuizen, Staff Writer
The Hoosier

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Indiana men's basketball fans haven't hidden their disappointment over this year's drop from national championship contender to NIT qualifier over the past couple of months.

But Hoosier fan Steve Fuson still managed to find a silver lining in figuring IU would be participating in the NCAA Tournament. Surely IU was going to get a top-four seed in the secondary tournament field and host a home game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, he figured.

He told his kids they could go to the game.

Not so fast.

IU declined a first-round NIT game in Bloomington, citing the fact that students are on break and therefore the crowd would be small. So instead of allowing those who could attend buy tickets, the No. 3 Hoosiers will travel down south and be the road team in a contest against No. 6 Georgia Tech.

Fuson, and plenty of other local Indiana fans, aren't going to make that drive. Now he's got to explain that to five-year-olds.

"Disheartening," he said in a Tweet.

You've got that right.

Indiana Athletics does countless things right. They've gone out of their way to improve fan experiences on game days, been active and sometimes groundbreaking in the use of new technologies to bring viewers closer to the games and generally do a good job in helping the community around the school.

But they whiffed on this move.

The reality is that the crowds at an NIT game at the newly renovated Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall were not going to be standing room only. Already slightly embarrassed to be in the NIT to begin with, empty seats certainly wouldn't have been the greatest of looks.

But is this worth it?

Indiana could have turned this into an opportunity. Imagine the feel-good stories that could have came from the university opening its doors to low-income families with affordable postseason tickets.

You think a struggling parent who can't normally afford to bring their kids to a game cares if the gym is empty? No chance.

They just want their family to have fun.

You think a 10-year-old cares that he's watching Thomas Bryant dunk in an NIT game? Surely not.

He just wants to find a role model.

You think a season ticket holder who's followed Hoosier basketball for years, in some cases decades or nearly an entire lifetime, is going to suddenly ditch the team after following it through some of the lows this program has hit over the last two decades? Probably not.

Indiana fans are the good kind of crazy where they embrace their team no matter what.

The thing that makes the annual Haunted Hall of Hoops such a success is that it brings a wide variety of Hoosier fans together. There's laughs, smiles, some nerves and plenty of excitement in between.

The NIT could have been that type of environment.

Now it's in Georgia.

There's other parts of this that don't make sense, either.

There's the revenue that now gets lost and the home court advantage that now gets tossed away. The latter will hurt Indiana's chances of moving forward in the tournament and having a chance to win the championship.

Why put yourself at a disadvantage?

Clearly there's more going into this decision than the media or public knows at this point, and that's fine. The braintrusts behind IU Athletics want the best for the university and no doubt put thought into their decision. They think this move is right.

But it's hard to see why right now.

The one consolation is that because Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is still available for use is that the women's team may be in line for an NCAA or WNIT game or two in the coming days. Teri Moren's Hoosiers could use a little extra support after finishing fourth in the Big Ten this season behind All-Big Ten juniors Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill.

They, along with the rest of their teammates, stick around after every home game to sign autographs and take pictures for half an hour. Normally you'll see a few of them still posing for selfies long after that until the security finally tells them to shut it down.

My advice? Find out when that women's team plays next.

Bring your kids, too, and anyone else you can find.

They want you there.

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