Fargo, N.D. — One of the first things you see when you de-plane at Fargo, N.D.’s tiny Hector Airport is a green-and-yellow North Dakota State athletics advertisement.
No big deal you might think, until you realize it’s just the first salvo in a NDSU marketing blitz.
Fargo, one of the nation’s most livable U.S. cities, is awash in hometown NDSU green-and-yellow. Billboards, signage, well wishes from local businesses, it’s an assault on the senses.
Some of it is originated by NDSU, but an equal amount of it is organic, fans unabashedly showing their pride in their hometown team. The Bison (or Bi-zon as they pronounce it up here) are a way of life. The point was emphatically driven home on a visit to Fargo’s huge sporting goods store, Scheels. The NDSU merchandise display exceeded what you normally see for Indiana and Purdue in the Hoosier State, much less what you see for Indiana State in Terre Haute.
This level of fan interest is nothing new in my Missouri Valley Conference travels. All over the conference, the local school is a fabric of life in their communities. It can range from the full-on blitz seen in Fargo to more sedate displays like street signs with the school’s logo on them, or something as simple having store displays with the school colors prominently displayed.
There’s no demographic distinction in this. In larger cities (Wichita and Omaha) and smaller cities (Carbondale, Ill. and Macomb, Ill.) than Terre Haute, you get a real sense that the local team is an integral part of everyday life.
You never get that sense here in Terre Haute. With some notable exceptions from local donors and businesses, ISU athletics are met with apathy by the community. If ISU is a part of the fabric of Terre Haute life, it’s frayed, almost hidden fabric that just barely holds together a tenuous relationship between a city and university that too often fail to realize they can both benefit by a mutual partnership.
This is important because not only does ISU have to compete on the field with these schools, but off it too, for sponsorship and fan support in the community it calls home. And if ISU’s football program has been an embarrassment for a generation, the ISU-Terre Haute partnership has been just as bad for just as long.
By most accounts from long-time residents, ISU repaid the apathy with apathy of its own. The mutual attitude was you do your thing and we’ll do ours, mutually damaging to both parties, who could do so much more together.
Terre Haute mayor Duke Bennett has seen this too. He accompanied the ISU football team on the trip to Fargo last weekend, but he’s been around this rodeo before, having gone on the road to see ISU play in other conference venues before he was mayor. What he saw in Fargo — which not only wears its love for their Bison on their sleeves, but which also built a beautiful 18,000-seat domed stadium for NDSU and the community at-large — didn’t surprise Bennett so much as confirm what he already knew.
“I travel to a lot of basketball locations — Cardondale, Peoria, even Evansville — and you see more integration and you see more pride. People are thinking about their university, they’re excited about what’s going on,” Bennett said. “A lot of times Indiana State has been an island within itself.”
Bennett said that the only way to break the deadlock is for one partner to reach out to another. In the athletics realm, ISU has done a better job of this during the Ron Prettyman administration, and there are signs that Dr. Daniel Bradley’s administration has a similar desire to do the same for the university as a whole.
Bennett stressed that this isn’t an overnight process. Hauteans aren’t going to wake up one morning and suddenly support ISU out of the blue. It’s an effort that’s going to take time.
“I don’t get that feeling that the community really wants to be a part of the Indiana State environment and Indiana State kind of feels that way about the city. My role, or my goal, is to tear those walls down, to stop that division. What can I do as the mayor? I can invite people to be excited about Indiana State and our other schools too,” Bennett said. “[Indiana State] is such a large employer, it’s such a huge economic engine, we all ought to be participating in that. So I think it’s a lot of little things we need to build up over the long haul.”
ISU has made initial progress in this mode with community outreach and a stated desire to involve the community. Again, Bennett stressed patience in how quickly such effort will bear fruit.
“I’ve seen a little bit of [evidence the outreach is having an affect], but I don’t see a lot. It’s that growing thing, you have to take what you’ve got and grow it. Every year when the students come back, we need to do more things as a community to make them knowledgeable, make them aware of what’s going on the campus. Something at Hulman Center, at Tilson, or a sporting event. We need to find ways to get the community to be excited about things we have going on. Once you expose them to it, they’ll come back,” Bennett said.
On the athletic front, winning helps, and that’s totally incumbent on ISU to solve, but the community itself can help too. If the community truly desires a winner, an investment in an endeavor that helps makes winner easier can be a boon to the university and community as a whole.
The Fargodome, built in 1992, is the ultimate example of what a community-university partnership can bring. Fargo approved a one-cent sales tax to fund construction of the building, which is owned by the city, but leased to the university. The tax not only funded the building, but Fargo built up a $15-million surplus from the tax.
In the period since the Fargodome was built, NDSU has gone from an obscure Division II program with limited scope in a sparsely populated state to a full Division I university that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation this year in the FCS football poll.
Fargo has responded with large crowds and a festival-like atmosphere before games, where tailgating is a prominent thing to do during NDSU home weekends.
“This place [Fargodome], there’s about 17,000 people here tonight. There’s not a lot going on in Fargo, but they want to be here. People were here five hours before the game started to get in [the parking lot] to do tailgating. That’s the kind of thing you have to build on,” Bennett said.
ISU is actively trying to build a multi-purpose, on-campus stadium that could serve football and other sports. Is this a path Terre Haute should not explore, but get behind from a community standpoint? It would do wonders to break down the walls between city and university.
“This [the Fargodome] is really nice, I’ve never seen anything like this before other than at the professional level. I really think we could have some increased opportunities to work together to make a community facility which is multi-purpose where we could do lots of things, just like Hulman Center, with the idea behind it,” Bennett said.
“We could do the same thing with a stadium type of venture, we’ll just have to see … you have to have private donors to make that possible,” Bennett added. “That’s the thing. If you can get people excited about what’s going on and make it a multi-purpose thing, get some return on the investment, then it’s a very doable thing.”
Would a Fargo scenario be feasible or realistic in Terre Haute?
“They did it in Indianapolis, they did it with a beverage tax. The food and beverage tax funded Lucas Oil Stadium. You can do that, it takes an act of the Legislature to allow you to do that kind of thing, but it’s becoming an increasing way to do it,” Bennett said. “When you have visitors coming to Terre Haute, they’re not paying our taxes, but they’re using our streets, they’re using our public safety, they don’t pay anything. If they come into town and pay a food and beverage tax, or a lodging tax, at least they’re sharing in the cost of developing something. If they come to your town to go to an event there, they’re helping pay for it, instead of putting it on the local taxpayers. I think that’s a very common way to do things.”
It’s a pipe dream now, but Terre Haute and ISU should dare to dream. The path is in front of them and the success of such partnerships are evident in places like Fargo.
“It will be tough, but I think it’s something we all need to look at. I think we need to take an honest look at how we can improve things in Terre Haute since we’re losing property tax dollars through our new plan. We don’t have money to go around, so when you do it, there has to be a return on the investment,” Bennett said.
The halftime interview ended as NDSU’s fans roared when their Bison re-entered the field. An appropriate coda, given that traveling to a place like Fargo drives home just what the return on their investment has meant.
It also emphatically drove home what it can mean when a school is part of the fabric of the community. Terre Haute can do this too.
Note: The full transcript of the interview with Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett is on Todd Golden’s Down In The Valley blog. The address is blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com.
Fargo, N.D. — One of the first things you see when you de-plane at Fargo, N.D.’s tiny Hector Airport is a green-and-yellow North Dakota State athletics advertisement.
- From the Press Box
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Odum rises to WSU challenge
When you’re getting ready to play the No. 2 team in the country — the undefeated No. 2 team in the country and the best Missouri Valley Conference team in a generation — the unwritten rule says you’re not supposed to rile them. That you’re not supposed to poke the hornet’s nest.
From The Press Box: The nuts and bolts of compiling a Mock Selection for the NCAA Tournament
Before March Madness comes the March mystery of the run-up to Selection Sunday.
From the Press Box: Loss couldn’t ruin great day for ISU, Terre Haute
When I write, and when I can, I like to give myself a bit of time to soak in what I’m going to write about. After Indiana State’s 65-58 loss to No. 4 Wichita State on Wednesday, I went home, had a bite to eat and pondered what I thought the night was all about.
I knew ISU’s disappointment cut deep. Really deep. A cruel reality of sports is that losses linger on in the memory with greater resonance than wins often do. Given the shots that rattled out, fell short and missed the mark in the final five minutes, this is a defeat that will, sadly, dog the Sycamores tonight, tomorrow and 20 years from now.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Little to lose, a lot to gain for Indiana State
It’s hard not to get excited about today’s Missouri Valley Conference summit meeting between co-leaders Indiana State and Wichita State. Who wouldn’t be?
From the Press Box: I’ve seen the enemy … and it’s the double bonus
I’ve seen the enemy.
I’ve seen it turn the game of basketball from one of exciting flow into a nonstop parade of tedium. I’ve seen it morph hundreds of what would-be thrilling, last-minute, end-to-end conclusions into foul shooting exhibitions that suck the life out of a gym or arena near you.
It’s the double bonus. It’s a scourge, one that is often overlooked when ideas on how to make the game more entertaining or to speed the game up are put forth.
From The Press Box: If ISU figures out defense, look out
The Great Alaska Shootout is not going to provide the Great RPI Bump that Indiana State’s participation in last year’s Diamond Head Classic provided.
From the Press Box: Damage is done for ISU football
As a parent and a professional, there’s a bit of advice I’ve tried to pass along that I’ve found to be true.
No matter what you happen to be doing — whether it be job performance or just your own personal behavior — you can do the right thing for a period of time, even the vast majority of the time, but all it takes is one slip and the goodwill you’ve built up can be gone in one fell swoop.
TODD GOLDEN: Munn, Odum want to make paper accomplishment a real one
When it comes to Missouri Valley Conference Media Day, it has historically been a kick in the gut for Indiana State's basketball teams.
But not this year. For the first time since formal MVC preseason polls began in the mid-1980s, the Sycamores rule the MVC roost.
TODD GOLDEN: Colts fans paid Manning ultimate tribute
Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis was many things — the return of a beloved prodigal son, a battle of Colts’ No. 1-draft-pick quarterbacks and last, but not least, the visit from one of the AFC’s last reminaing undefeated teams — but most of all, it could have been a battle for the Colts’ fans soul.
From The Press Box: ISU in top 2 of top-heavy MVC
Change doesn’t often come to Missouri Valley Conference basketball. Until this season, it had endured with the same 10 members since the mid-1990s. But the reality of conference realignment finally hit the MVC where it lived last spring as Creighton departed for the new Big East Conference. The MVC responded by adding Loyola University.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Sycamores shocked by 1-5 start to season
It was a play that not only symbolized Indiana State’s 17-14 loss at South Dakota on Saturday, but perhaps the Sycamores’ entire season.
Down three with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter, ISU faced third-and-9 from its own 39. ISU ran Shakir Bell to the left and the senior standout had daylight.
From The Press Box: An avoidable loss
It couldn’t last forever.
From The Press Box: Colts dodge bullets ... it's what they do
Just a few minutes into the second quarter, it seemed Colts fans could kick back and enjoy a Sunday on Easy Street.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Indiana State proves plenty in 20-14 loss at Purdue
No moral victories?
Bull. Its always been bull and it will always be bull. The Sycamores proved again that moral victories are very real, and can be very rewarding.
All they needed to do to prove it was to look at the stunned faces of the Purdue faithful at Ross-Ade Stadium in the Sycamores’ near-miss 20-14 loss to Purdue.
From the Press Box: Stipends? No. Off-field income? Oh yeah, bring it on
The war flags have been raised. The trumpets have sounded.
With the Johnny Manziel autograph hullabaloo and the ongoing Ed O’Bannon suit against the NCAA for using his likeness as background, many have rallied to the battle standard of stipends as a means of compensating NCAA athletes who are allegedly being exploited for income by their universities.
This rally cry has a particular resonance among those in my profession, many of whom dislike the current system, and who detest the NCAA with a virulent passion.
TODD GOLDEN: Golf ... the beast within?
Like many sports fans, my interest in professional golf is confined to the four major tournaments. Many prefer the Masters, some like the back-to-roots British Open, but I’ve always liked the U.S. Open the best.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Close, but no cigar, theme for ISU sports in 2012-13
When I covered my first event of Indiana State’s 2012-13 season — ISU’s opening football game at Indiana — I was the first one in the press box at IU’s Memorial Stadium. I’m never the first one in the press box.
Maybe the prospect of ISU’s season had me so pumped that I decided to get it started close to three hours early? (Or more truthfully, maybe I was over-vigilent about predicted traffic horrors on the Indiana 46 bypass that never came to pass.)
TODD GOLDEN: Don't give up on ISU baseball just yet
If you had to pick one word that would describe the 2013 Indiana State baseball season, it would have to be frustration.
FROM THE PRESSBOX: Content McKenna has enjoyed seeing ISU's progress
It all happened so fast in June 2010.
One minute, Kevin McKenna was head coach of the Indiana State men’s basketball program. Then — poof! — he was gone.
McKenna resigned from his head coaching position at ISU on June 13, 2010 to take an assistant coach position on Dana Altman’s then-burgeoning University of Oregon staff.
MVC can't wait on Crieghton to move forward
Will they go or not? That’s been the question that the Missouri Valley Conference and Creighton have been faced with since rumors of the Bluejays’ potential exit went public in December.
FROM THE PRESSBOX: Can Sycamores reverse fortunes heading into MVC Tournament?
Mastery of a basketball season comes in many forms. Mostly, it comes in forms that involve avoidance of turnovers, anemic scoring and poor defense.
The mechanics of X-and-O success in basketball are obvious, but what’s often overlooked in building a successful campaign is managing the rhythm of the season, which is the hardest thing of all.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Accountability isn't Lansing's alone in ISU's recent struggles
Taking ownership has always been one of Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing’s strengths.
When ISU has lost games in his three seasons at the helm that it was expected to win, Lansing has always been willing to fall on the sword and take blame for it.
TODD GOLDEN: Indiana State has far more occasions to rise to
Rejoice, Indiana State basketball fans. The Sycamores’ 68-55 victory at No. 15 Wichita State on Tuesday is worthy of celebration.
TODD GOLDEN: Big plays in last 10 minutes story of the season for Indiana State
You’d think I’d have learned by now.
It’s 20 games into Indiana State’s men’s basketball season and I still expect the Sycamores’ offense operate like a well-oiled machine from the opening tip.
Sycamores blossom on Hawaii trip
Quick quiz … what’s the state flower of Hawaii?
Don’t worry. I can’t just rattle state flowers off the top of my head. I had to look it up too, even though I’ve seen them all over the place in Honolulu.
I didn’t even know that Indiana’s state flower is the peony, which replaced the apparently unloved zinnia in the 1950s.
Hawaii’s flower, and they’re ubiquitous in Waikiki tourist shops and in actual flora on Oahu, is the yellow hibiscus.
The yellow hibiscus is big, bold and bright. I’ve never seen one blossom, but I imagine it has to be a beautiful sight.
What I have seen blossom — and it’s the only reason flowers would be brought up in my column — is the Indiana State basketball team at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
TODD GOLDEN: ISU needs to have its realignment head on a swivel
Have you ever driven past a cow pasture during a severe thunderstorm? If it’s really bad, the cows will congregate in a herd to protect themselves from the tumult.
TODD GOLDEN: ISU AD Prettyman keeps it close to the vest
Do you want to know who’s on the short list to become Indiana State's next football coach?
TODD GOLDEN: Trent Miles leaves Sycamores with giant legacy
To glean perspective on Trent Miles’ time as Indiana State’s football coach, I went back into the Tribune-Star’s archives to remind myself of what the football program was like when Miles arrived to rebuild it.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Scoreboard watching and the threat matrix for ISU
Indiana State football coach Trent Miles reaffirmed his belief Tuesday that a victory over Youngstown State on Saturday will propel the Sycamores into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time since 1984.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Twists and turns, but Luck passes eye test
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck made his much anticipated Lucas Oil Stadium debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
- More From the Press Box Headlines
- FROM THE PRESS BOX: Odum rises to WSU challenge