TERRE HAUTE —
It’s easy to discern the benefits for Indiana State’s football program when it comes to playing Indiana, which the Sycamores will do for the next three seasons, starting with an 8 p.m. contest on Saturday.
It’s a chance for the Sycamores to play on national TV via the Big Ten Network, it’s a chance for Sycamores’ fans to have a nearby road trip, it’s a chance to play an in-state team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and its a chance to play against one of the best-followed programs in the state.
It’s also a chance to get paid. ISU will take home a $400,000 check for the short jaunt to Bloomington on Saturday. In 2013, ISU will be paid $425,000, and in 2014, it will be paid $450,000.
That’s a cool $1,275,000 for a trip that’s no more taxing than the ones the Terre Haute high schools make to Indianapolis several times a year to compete in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference for nothing. (ISU will also be paid $425,000 to play at Purdue next season.)
And if ISU manages to defeat the Hoosiers? The attention and prestige it will bring to the program statewide is priceless.
So there’s myriad reasons for the Sycamores to play Indiana. The less obvious question is what’s in it for the Hoosiers?
Quite a lot, according to second-year IU coach Kevin Wilson.
“In my first three years here, we’ll play six home games. Certain people in the Big Ten are going to have eight games, every year. It’s almost non-negotiable,” said Wilson, in a teleconference with statewide media on Wednesday. “Indiana State gives us a chance to bring a crowd down, it helps our attendance, so it gets some great local attention.”
Wilson also made the assertion that playing ISU is good for their recruiting as well as it is for the Sycamores.
“I have recruits coming to the game this weekend. One of the reasons they’re coming? ‘Hey, my buddy plays at Indiana State.’ So it even helps getting kids on our campus,” Wilson said.
Wilson also tried to blunt a bit of motivation ISU might use against the Hoosiers. Its been asserted that several ISU players hoped to play at IU and some were recruited by the Hoosiers — such as running back Shakir Bell. The idea is that they will take it as a snub that they aren’t playing in Bloomington and use it as a chip on their shoulder come Saturday.
“Everybody says, ‘Indiana State has a lot of guys Indiana didn’t recruit.’ I look at my roster and there’s a lot of guys who weren’t recruited by anyone else either. They can have a chip on their shoulder, we need to have a chip on ours. That’s a wash there,” Wilson said.
Wilson was also asked how ISU’s most decorated players — Bell (a Walter Payton Award finalist), defensive end Ben Obaseki (a Buck Buchanan Award nominee) and others — compared to what the Hoosiers see on a week-to-week basis in Big Ten play.
“These are guys who may not have made the academic grade, or got injured during their senior year, or they played basketball and didn’t come [for football] until their senior year,” Wilson said. “You look at the NFL Draft and some of the best players in the country from under-the-radar teams …
“… What happens is if they go to a program that has great structure, great leadership and they match the plan? You see them flourish. That’s a product of what Trent Miles and his staff have done.”
Wilson’s current situation at IU — the Hoosiers are coming off a 1-11 season in his first go-around — has some parallels to what Miles went through at ISU went he went winless in his opening season in 2008.
Wilson has not faced the threat of program elimination, as Miles almost certainly did, but like Miles, Wilson does have a major task in front of him to turn the Hoosiers into a respectable Big Ten team.
“As far as what [ISU] was like and what [Miles] overcame? I can’t really answer that. I wasn’t in the area at that time. I’m not a good judge of that, but I respect that his team’s play hard and I respect the way that team plays,” Wilson said.
“Coach Miles has created a really good environment of kids playing his style of ball. It’s impressive to watch. I expect them to play that way Saturday and I think they come in with every expectation of winning the football game,” he added.