It is one of the oldest canards in college sports.
“Nebraska and Penn State are football schools.”
“Indiana is a basketball school.”
“Rutgers is Rutgers.”
Okay, I’m not sure where that last one came from. Maybe just some game week fun.
But for far too long, the notion has existed that college athletic departments can only have a successful football or men’s basketball team — but not both.
One only needs to take an intellectually honest stroll through the Big Ten to realize that schools like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State busted this myth years ago.
And one only needs to realize that if financial constraints ever actually did play a role here, innovations like the Big Ten Network changed the playing field.
In some respects, Indiana cornerback Reese Taylor grew up at the center of this debate.
Playing football in the basketball crazed Hoosier state, Taylor certainly knows what success in both football and basketball looks like.
Taylor led Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis to the 2017 state football title, following a state crown earned by his friends on the basketball team just months earlier.
Now on the heels of a supposed basketball power (Indiana) taking down a supposed football power (Penn State), Taylor believes things have changed.
He’s ready to include IU in the mix of schools that are successful at both of the top revenue producing college sports.
“Indiana has changed,” Taylor told the media on Tuesday. “Everybody would say Indiana is a basketball school. But I feel like we changed that. I feel like it is a football school as well.”
Taylor did his part to contribute to the historic win over Penn State, playing extensively at cornerback and special teams.
His performance included a 21 yard punt return that took Indiana from inside its own 20 to good starting field position.
While the play may not seem like much in the overall scheme of Saturday’s wild affair, it should be noted that Indiana only had 68 punt return yards for the entirety of the 2019 season.
It is one of several plays throughout a game that a so-called basketball school needs to slay one of the football giants.
And it was one small step in what now firmly appears to be a change of fortunes for the long suffering IU football program.
Taylor points to the man at the top as the person responsible for changing the direction of the former opening act for the basketball season.
Interestingly, head coach Tom Allen was once a teacher and head coach at Taylor’s alma mater, Ben Davis. In fact, that was Allen’s only head coaching job prior to taking over at Indiana.
Much like the idea that IU could only ever be a basketball school, many baselessly questioned why Indiana would hire someone with only high school head coaching experience.
In fact, the two concepts are inextricably linked.
To the doubters, the basketball school wasn’t willing to pay the cash for a top tier football coach.
But now in his fourth full season at IU and with a new $27 million contract, Allen has built a culture that Taylor believes is the reason why the narrative is changing about the football program.
“He turned this whole program around,” Taylor said.
Something else that Allen has been mocked for at times is his “Love Each Other” or “LEO” motto.
This is football. What’s love got to do with it? Right?
Taylor believes love is the foundation of the turnaround.
“Before he recruits you he makes sure you are a good person — and then a good player. And he’s a good man before the coach, Taylor said.
“He’s going to teach you how to be a good husband and how to be a real person in this world before a football player. He actually really made everybody a better person on the team, he makes the coaches better, he makes the whole facility go.”
Somehow all that love is translating to the field. Maybe if you have a real affection for your teammates and coaches, you want to play a little harder for them?
Taylor thinks so.
“We play to that standard,” he said. “We come out and play as hard as we can.”
LEO is now 1-0, with its first win over a top-10 team in 33 years. And it has people inside and out of the program believing that there is room in Bloomington for winning football.
But while Indiana football is ranked No. 17, its highest such achievement since 1993, everyone also knows that one misstep can reboot the whole narrative, at least for the outside world.
A slip-up against Rutgers on Saturday would wipe away much of the feel good story from last weekend.
“It was just Indiana football after all,” they will say. “Just a basketball school, you know.”
Taylor isn’t predicting wins or making any guarantees.
But he is telling you, anyone who will listen, that this time it is different.
Indiana is a basketball and football school.
For Taylor, it is an expectation that has been chiseled in Bloomington limestone.
With a loving touch, of course.
“This is the standard now,” Taylor said. “It’s set in stone.”
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