TERRE HAUTE —
I wasn’t sure Indiana State men’s basketball Greg Lansing would pull the trigger.
I heard about the possibility of Notre Dame being on the men’s basketball schedule a few weeks ago, but heard about it off-the-record, so I couldn’t reveal it.
ISU had its choice of going on the road to play a “buy game” at Notre Dame or it could schedule a home-and-home basketball series. Given the chance, nearly every coach would choose the home game.
Lansing went against the grain. He chose the game that would resonate most with the fanbase. That takes guts and Lansing deserves credit for it.
At the time, I knew Nicholls State was an alternative to playing the Fighting Irish. To me, playing Nicholls State just for the sake of a home game that would be forgotten by 99 percent of the fanbase five minutes after it was over, and for a possible win over a foe that adds nothing RPI-wise, was a waste versus the opportunity to try and take down Notre Dame at the Joyce Center.
To me, it was a no-brainer, and I thought ISU fans would feel the same way, no matter how unbalanced the home-road schedule would be as a result.
What I didn’t know until Friday was that Rhode Island was another possible home-and-home foe. And compared to Nicholls State, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.
Rhode Island was 26-10 last season and came very close to making the NCAA Tournament. The Rams would’ve come to Terre Haute first with the Sycamores returning to play at Kingston, R.I., next season.
Given that ISU would be bringing a quality foe into the Hulman Center, and given that there would be no RPI hit — far from it in fact — I think the vast majority of coaches would’ve chosen the Rhode Island option over the Notre Dame option no matter how it went down with the fanbase. I couldn’t blame Lansing if that’s the choice he made.
Heck, I think the majority of coaches would’ve taken the Nicholls State option and taken what would likely have been a home win.
But Lansing chose the path of most resistance. Some will see this is as high-risk, high reward, but I’m not as sure.
In fact, I would call it low-risk, high-reward for the Sycamores. If they lose to Notre Dame on the road … big deal. It was worth the try and there won’t be any kind of RPI hit from it. The fans will appreciate the fact that ISU gave it a shot against one of the state’s iconic schools.
But if ISU wins? It’s the kind of victory that energizes a fanbase. Notre Dame did lose five seniors from last year’s 23-12 team, including All-American Luke Harangody, and has just one double-figure scorer back.
This is win-win for the Sycamores.
I think more programs, especially in the Missouri Valley Conference, should give this scheduling tact a try once in a while, especially in special circumstances such as playing an in-state foe.
The Iowa MVC schools are able to do it only because it’s mandated by the state legislature there. Nebraska and Creighton play annually because, frankly, the Jays have long been a better program than the Huskers.
But everyone else in the Valley struggles to schedule in-state foes, so MVC teams should take every chance they get to play them when they can.
If Illinois approaches one of the MVC’s three Land of Lincoln schools and says come play us to fill in a date, they ought to do it. Same thing for Missouri State and Mizzou. That goes triple for Wichita State and Kansas.
I’m probably in the minority on this among MVC observers on this. The feeling among some (many?) in the MVC is that they’re too good for those types of deals.
I turn that argument inside-out. If you truly believe your conference and your program is on par and can compete with those types of in-state foes from bigger conferences, why rob yourself of the opportunity to beat them? Give yourself every chance to prove it, whether it be on their court, a neutral court, or if you’re really fortunate, on your own court.
If your program is waiting around for that elusive 2-for-1 deal or the rarest of rare home-and-home series with the in-state big school team out of a sense of pride, you’re robbing your program and your fans of the opportunity to prove how good you really are. An argument can be made that it’s cowardly not to take the chance when it’s given to your program.
That’s why I like this. Most coaches wouldn’t take the chance. Lansing did.
Even though ISU’s home-road split is now totally out-of-whack, and even though ISU will face the daunting task of playing seven of its first eight games away from Hulman Center, Lansing chose to storm the windmill instead of meekly taking the easier route.
It took guts to make this decision. Good for Lansing for having the gumption to pull it off.
Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared in Golden’s Down In The Valley blog.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.