A Basketball State

Last night, Butler lost on the road at Indiana State, becoming the first ranked opponent to get beaten by the Sycamores in 10 tries. The last? Notre Dame in 2013, on the home floor of the Irish. Notre Dame and Indiana State haven’t place since. It’s likely now that the same will be true for the Bulldogs.

In a state that claims a sport as one of its most treasured exports, how the institutions that foster much of that love and history  have arrived at not playing each other is both sad and understandable. Butler’s presence in the game last night was almost a lose-lose. By losing, it assures the Bulldogs of a questionable (I won’t call it bad, yet) loss on paper, when analyzed, without much context, by the NCAA Selection Committee. Had they won, it would have been an overlooked W far removed from the “quality win” column the committee salivates over.

Nothing above is a knock on either program. It is a product of the system by which we field a tournament of 68 teams – the ultimate measuring stick of a program’s annual success. For Butler, a team that was clamoring for the power teams of the state to play two decades ago, a power move against such games is likely coming. It’s good business.

But we, as fans, don’t care about that business. We like our basketball homegrown. My fondest memories as a Butler fan (with radio/TV commitments, there are few) are road trips to Muncie, Terre Haute, Evansville and others at the beginning of the season to cheer on my team. Walking into a hostile environment to be that minority roar from the rafters. The talk was certainly trashy, but it ended with a high five after the game. Respect. We were different, but the same.

Aside from Indiana beating North Carolina, the two greatest men’s college basketball games played inside the state’s border this season have been last night in Terre Haute and Fort Wayne’s win over the Hoosiers last month. If Indiana and Butler fans can put on objective glasses for a moment, they could see what those wins did to keep basketball fresh, relevant and attainable at all four corners of the state.

Those games shouldn’t deter schools from playing each other. If anything, it should make them more prevalent. Will it happen? Probably not, but if it does, why not have it look something like this:

Indiana Major Basketball Programs (4) – Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame & Purdue
Indiana Mid-Major Basketball Programs (6) – Ball State, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana State, IUPUI, Valparaiso

[Before I get killed by my Crusader & Horizon League fans, let’s be honest – This categorization is fair, especially when it comes to tournament success, budgets, conference affiliation and rational thought]

Major vs. Major Scheduling
Thanks to the forward-thinking folks at the Crossroad Classic, and the fans showing up to produce money too good for the schools to ignore, this is already done, and is awesome.

Mid-Major vs. Mid-Major Scheduling
To a large extent, this already takes place. Valpo has games against both Ball State and Indiana State this year. IUPUI plays Ball State and the Jaguars have had series with others. There are also a couple of conference foes. But, all of it is contingent on staffs securing these deals. Let’s take care of that for them!
Every year, each team on this list plays four games against others, two on the road, two at home, rotated the following year for four true home-and-home series. 

Major vs. Mid-Major Scheduling
This may require legislative intervention or even an act of God, but for the sake of the sport, let’s make it work! To the credit of all the schools, there are games this decade, but not to the level fans would want. Forcing all six mid-major teams may be difficult, so I settled on a random rotation of four games in a four-year span:
Every year, each Major team will play four games against Mid-Major opponents, three at home and one on the road. It’s a four-year agreement that winds up being a 3-for-1 for the Mid-Major.

Keep something in mind before you think the idea is crazy: Other states mandate this happen. Wisconsin plays Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Iowa schools rotate annually.

Given the above hypothetical, we could arrive at the following non-conference schedules:
Indiana – Butler (N), Ball State (H), Evansville (H), IUPUI (H), Valparaiso (A)
Butler – Indiana (N), Indiana State (A), Fort Wayne (H), Ball State (H), IUPUI (H)
IUPUI – Purdue (H), Butler (A), Indiana (A), Notre Dame (A), Ball State (H), Indiana State (H), Valparaiso (A), Evansville (A)
Valparaiso – Indiana (H), Purdue (A), Notre Dame (A), IUPUI (H), Ball State (H), Fort Wayne (A), Evansville (A)
So on, and so on and so on…

To be fair, Valparaiso in 2016-17 may have scheduled better than what this provides. Having an all-everything player and recent run of success gets you more invitations, but would a home game against IUPUI be better than Chicago State? Would a road game to Mackey Arena be better than Oregon at the end of it all?
For the big schools, you’d hope season ticket holders in Bloomington would appreciate Ball State more than Houston Baptist. Wouldn’t Fort Wayne be a better draw at Hinkle than Central Arkansas?

It’s not going to happen, but it feels more attainable than not. Who’s with me?!

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