If there’s been a more significant inflection point in the history of college football, I can’t think of it.
And in many ways, the IU football program is standing right on the edge of a rapidly expanding fissure in the sport.
The transfer portal and NIL have created defacto free agency, and in the last year we’ve seen the Big Ten and SEC expand into super conferences, while we watched the Pac-12 dissolve. Massive television deals and mega brands are running college football these days, and it isn’t clear whether Indiana can avoid falling into the abyss.
Yes, the Hoosiers are currently in the cool kids clique, but they don’t look like many of their Big Ten and SEC brethren. And if things don’t change in Bloomington, at some point people are going to notice.
Do we really think we’ve reached the end of the sea change sweeping across the college football landscape? With the most losses in the history of college football, and unsteady fan support to put it gently, is IU’s place in the upper echelon secure?
If ever there was a time to go all-in on your football program Indiana, the time appears to be right now.
When they announce their new leader in the coming days, IU needs to go a step further. Okay, no, not really a step. They need to make a giant leap.
Indiana needs to announce a vision that signals far and wide that its football program is the standard bearer in Bloomington.
It’s a vision that they should already have tangibly in place, and utilizing as the focal point of their ongoing interviews with prospective head coaches.
Here’s how we are going to enhance the facilities. Here’s how we are going to remain competitive in the NIL space. Here’s how we are going to increase compensation for assistant coaches. Here’s how we’re going to improve the gameday experience for fans.
Basically, here’s how we belong among the college football elites.
And most important — here’s how we know we can get all that done.
Indiana needs to put it all out there, and hold themselves accountable.
Did you know in 2022 Kansas coach Lance Leipold signed a contract extension through 2029 with provisions in the deal specifically targeting facilities? It reads if “meaningful and substantial” progress was not made toward renovations of the Anderson Family Football Complex and Memorial Stadium by Dec. 13, 2023, Leipold had the right to terminate his contract without a buyout owed to the university.
That’s what accountability looks like.
Oh, and in August of this year, wouldn’t you know, Kansas football announced plans for a significant renovation of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and the surrounding area. The wide-ranging facility upgrades will cost more than $300 million and are expected to be completed by the 2025 college football season.
$300 million. That’s Kansas football folks. Every bit the perennial “basketball school” football doormat as Indiana.
And let’s talk about that basketball school nonsense.
Leipold and Kansas just completed an 8-4 regular season. Collectively, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina all finished the 2023 regular season with winning records and combined to go 30-18.
Now to be sure, some of those programs were wondering in 2019-20 how Indiana had seemingly figured things out. But the point is, there has been no stone tablet mandated from above that says a school can only excel at one revenue-generating sport. Ask Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. It can and has been done.
And going forward, running a successful football program might be a prerequisite for successful basketball. If the football elites fully sever their ties to the NCAA and form some kind of premier league, guess what happens to the schools left out? No mega media rights deals fueled by football means there’s very little left for basketball.
And for those so fortunate to be in the Big Ten and SEC at this critical moment, now fully awash in cash, it should be easier than ever to pivot towards fully embracing and prioritizing football.
But there must be a vision. And there must be decisive action.
There are promising signs Indiana is well on its way to finally figuring out it is a football school, whether it wants to be or not.
Many believed IU wouldn’t fire Tom Allen until after the 2024 season, when his buyout dropped by roughly $12 million. And the old way would have been to do just that. Wait it out. What’s one more losing season anyway?
And many believed that Indiana couldn’t generate enough funds to be competitive in the NIL landscape. But their partner collectives raised over $2 million in a day earlier this month, and according to an Indy Star report yesterday, the program has available more than $3 million in NIL funds to help facilitate a fast start for the new football coach.
This all feels very different than the message sent to the outside world two years ago, when Indiana fired offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, and Tom Allen was forced to take a pay cut to offset some of Sheridan’s contract buyout.
Many fans are worried as they see Indiana’s entire offensive line, best wide receiver, best running back and starting quarterback run to the portal this week after Allen was fired.
But I wouldn’t worry about that too much.
In the coming days, Indiana has a chance to announce not only a coach who generates excitement, but also a plan for the future that has talented players believing IU is finally serious about football.
It should go without saying, but the players notice a lack of commitment, and in an era when they all have options, that matters more than ever.
Consider this thread by former IU offensive lineman Dylan Powell.
I have a challenge for you @ScottDolson and Pam Whitten as you wake up this morning. I want you all to look yourselves in the mirror and ask if you truly have done everything you can to support IU football and Coach Allen. I think if you say yes, you’d be lying to yourselves
— Dylan Powell (@Dylan_Powell74) November 26, 2023
To provide him with the necessary resources to be successful. You cut his legs out after the 2021 season and we now operate like a MAC program. You can’t compete in the BIG 10 like that. Go all in on the program/coach that is all for Indiana for once instead of giving the minimum
— Dylan Powell (@Dylan_Powell74) November 26, 2023
Powell played for Indiana during both the highs of the 2020 season and the 2021 doldrums. If his voice reflects the mood of the players over the last three years, it’s no great mystery why the program cratered. There is no singular voice on a roster of 125 to suggest Powell is speaking for the entire team, but we know enough to say his views are shared by many.
And that includes Tom Allen, who on Sunday implored Indiana to get off the mat at this critical juncture.
“College football has changed dramatically over the past several years. Some of those changes have been a shock to the conscience of those who support IU football,” Allen said. “The time has come to fully embrace those changes and I pray that IU does just that.”
Allen may or may not have been the right coach to lead Indiana through the dramatic change of the last three years.
But he is unquestionably right about this moment.
Indiana, your time for bold action has come.
What are you going to do?
For complete coverage of IU football, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
- Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
- You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
- Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no cost to you.