TERRE HAUTE — Dear Dr. Daniel Bradley,
Welcome to Terre Haute! And I mean, welcome to Terre Haute. The presence of the university president in the city the university calls home is a welcome site indeed for ISU students, faculty, administrators and alumni.
Full disclosure. I am not directly connected to Indiana State, I am not even an alum, but my job as the Indiana State athletics beat writer at the Tribune-Star exposes me to a diverse group of people who are interested in the future of ISU and its athletic programs. I have covered multiple athletic administrations, as well as coaches, new and old, who used differing philosophies to face similar challenges in bringing ISU success in athletics. I have observed the challenges ISU’s athletic programs faced in raising money in better economic times than we face now.
Given that, I feel I can offer some suggestions on what path you may want to take with athletics. I know there are other irons in the fire for you, Dr. Bradley, but if you will, please consider the following ideas that could enhance the future of ISU athletics and the university itself.
• Put your trust in Prettyman — Your predecessor, Dr. Lloyd Benjamin, current ISU Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Ramey, and the Board of Trustees made a great hire when they agreed to hire Ron Prettyman as athletic director in 2005.
Prettyman has made very few missteps since he took the athletic reins and it’s fair to say that optimism among the fan base for nearly all of the university’s individual athletic programs has never been higher. The infusion of new coaches has brought new ideas. Prettyman also pragmatically accepted coaches he inherited that he was smart enough to know were successful without a need to rock the boat for the sake of rocking the boat. Moreover, the amount of money raised under Prettyman has increased.
What Prettyman needs now is trust. I admit I am speaking somewhat out of turn here. You may have already addressed your relationship with Prettyman himself, but from my outsider perspective, the more freedom you give Prettyman to continue to improve ISU athletic station, the better. He has proven for three years that he deserves it.
• Do what you do best — What ISU athletics really needs is money, not an easy commodity to come by in a difficult economy. Prettyman’s staff has improved financial matters, but ISU is still behind its Missouri Valley Conference rivals when it comes to donations and overall revenue.
Your acumen in successfully initiating Fairmont State’s first capital campaign and the three-fold increase in private donations is a welcome attribute ISU needs as a whole and athletics needs specifically.
Should money be raised for athletics, ensure that it’s spent wisely. Tempting though it may be, throwing around attention-grabbing huge contracts for coaches is good in the short-term PR-wise, but are often questionable in the long view (of course, if a donor is willing to pony up, that’s a different kettle of fish).
Instead, improve the facilities (see below), infuse the recruiting budgets with more money than the coaches know what to do with, and give the revenue sports a chance to buy attractive home games, which attracts fans, and in turn, attracts money. That’s a foundation that can continue to bear fruit, not unlike a Major League baseball team pouring money into its farm system.
• The multi-purpose stadium should be a priority — As you may already know, football is the most controversial sport at ISU as far as its continued viability. Some are fiercely loyal to it, others would like to see it eliminated. Part of the problem is that football plays three miles off campus at a facility that is literally crumbling. The clock is ticking on Memorial Stadium, and with it, the question of the viability looms larger.
A message can be sent once-and-for-all about the future of football and the long-term health of other sports if the multi-purpose stadium proposed either for ISU’s current campus or on the land purchased east of campus is built.
Football could shake off the fears of its long-term viability and progress to the point where the sport is as important a part of ISU’s campus life as it is elsewhere. Women’s soccer could have a beautiful facility to call home, and perhaps, ISU could initiate men’s soccer as well. ISU’s most successful program in recent years — its men’s and women’s track and field teams — need and deserve a top-notch facility to call their own. Obviously, building one facility for three sports is also the most economically sound option.
• Maintain commitment to academic excellence — Since I’ve been here, and before that, ISU has had an excellent academic athletic reputation. The women’s basketball team has been the nation’s best, and other programs have excelled as well.
There’s really nothing to be done here, Dr. Bradley, just keep it up. However, ISU should not be tempted to erode its academic qualifications in the face of more lax qualifications for scholarships and transfers elsewhere in the Missouri Valley Conference. Instead, ISU can be the force of internal change in the Valley to make the other schools accept ISU’s standards, rather than lowering the bar to theirs.
• Make ISU Terre Haute’s team of choice — You are going to be very disappointed, Dr. Bradley, when you go out-and-about during the fall and winter and see scads of Indiana University, Purdue University and all manner of other university T-shirts and sweaters floating around Terre Haute.
The Sycamores are not necessarily the team of choice in their own city and whatever can be done to change that needs to be considered. This is one area where your desire to build a relationship between the city and the university can be most easily measured.
Success in the athletic arena is the best tonic for this circumstance, but until then, ISU should be doing whatever it can to create a relationship with the community at large to make the Sycamores their team of choice. If that means ticket discounts for Vigo County residents, study it. If it means more community outreach (something that has improved in recent years), so be it.
I would like to see a day where Terre Haute, all of Terre Haute, loves its Sycamores. It’s not there yet.
• Create a ‘university atmosphere’ — Admittedly, this goes beyond the realm of athletics, but developing a “university atmosphere” through commercial development would be a big boon for ISU and Terre Haute too.
Most of the time, “university atmosphere” grows organically. It grows around commercial districts like Indiana’s Kirkland Avenue, or on a smaller scale, the village area of my alma mater, Ball State. ISU has no equivalent of that right now, and most of the time, it’s not something a school can just create.
However the land ISU has purchased north and east of the current campus offers a unique opportunity, especially if the stadium is built. Give over a block or a half-block to commercial development in an attempt to attract restaurants, stores that appeal to students, and gasp!, even a bar or two. A place to hang out might seem frivolous, but it can do a world of good for the university’s campus life.
On the athletic front, a more entertaining university life is advantageous to recruiting as well as connecting with current students and alumni.
Those are my ideas, Dr. Bradley, and if I may be brutally honest for a moment, I’ve had plenty of people — ISU insiders and others — approach in me in the last four years to tell me ISU could never be more than a minor entity within the framework of the Missouri Valley Conference and college athletics overall. There is no shortage of people who think ISU can’t succeed athletically.
I don’t believe that. I don’t buy into the negative, think-small mentality that has been really difficult to shake. There is no reason some of the successes other universities like ISU have enjoyed can’t happen here. There’s no reason why Terre Haute can’t embrace what ISU can bring to this city.
There are pieces in place, they just need to be taken advantage of. With the right resources, good leadership, and some good fortune, I think they can be.
Best of luck, Dr. Bradley. I think everyone who has a stake in ISU athletics is looking forward to seeing what you can do.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE — Dear Dr. Daniel Bradley,
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