By Todd Golden
Brookings, S.D. — These are the dark times for the Indiana State football program, the times when faith is tested and when hope is hard to come by.
The Sycamores filed off Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in defeat for the 30th straight time on Saturday after South Dakota State defeated the Sycamores 41-0. Without any offense to speak of — ISU had 90 yards of total offense against the Jackrabbits — the Sycamores had no chance.
Terre Haute mayor Duke Bennett was one of the few friends of the program who made the long trek to the Dakota prairie to watch the Sycamores get cut down again. But what really matters is the friends the program, and head coach Trent Miles, have at home.
The numbers don’t lie. ISU’s losing streak is the fourth-longest in Division I history. The only teams “ahead” of ISU on the all-time losing streak list are Northwestern (34 losses), Columbia (44) and Prairie View A&M; (80).
It’s understandable that some fans have turned a blind eye. You can’t blame anyone for being apathetic when they’re not thrown a victory bone once in a while. The Old Testament’s Job has nothing on ISU football fans.
Apathy is one thing. What isn’t as understandable are ISU fans who want to throw up their hands and quit. Either on the program itself or on Miles’ stewardship of it.
Ever since an admittedly embarrassing loss to Quincy, the “drop football” voices have once again emerged. They’ve been around as long as I’ve been covering the team, but the volume of the voices is usually determined by which way the wind blows as far as the Sycamores’ ebbs and flows on their odyessy to respectibility.
Dropping football at ISU, to me, is a complete non-starter.
The administration just installed field turf and built a new locker room. I’m just spitballing here, but the only way to recoup that money by dropping football would be to add men’s soccer and house it in the current football facilities. ISU has to add a sport if it drops one as it is at the minimum amount of sponsored sports to remain Division I.
To do the above scenario, or any scenario where football is dropped, would be financial folly. The Sycamore program has more than $500,000 coming into the athletic department in buy games alone in the next two years (Cincinnati and Penn State). There’s more money coming in for games ISU hasn’t publicly announced, but has verbally agreed to without finalized contracts yet.
There’s no way a soccer program (I think it would be great if ISU had men’s soccer, incidentally) can come close to matching those dollars, even if it costs less to operate than football. No sport but football has that kind of instant earning power for an athletic department. Not even basketball.
In addition to the drop-football contingent, there are some whispers out there that Miles should be feeling job pressure. That’s patently absurd.
Apart from the fact that Miles hasn’t had anywhere near enough time to be realistically assessed — he’s only had one full recruiting year and only 16 games to date — Miles has been open from the beginning that he was starting over from scratch.
Due to the infusion of youth and the departure of those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy into his program, Miles has been open from the beginning that there would be lean times early in his tenue. Some of the losses along the way have been disappointing and the current state of the offense is bad, but the Sycamores are better than they were a year ago. Unfortunately for ISU, they’ve only been better on one side of the ball. But when you start over, it’s usually the offense that develops last.
Time will tell if Miles’ plan is successful. Everyone has their own personal cut-off when patience stops and Miles has to stop rebuilding and start winning. But at the very least, and I mean very least, he deserves as much time as the 33 games Lou West got.
Miles is also popular among most of the fans. The majority of ISU supporters — whether they openly support football or not — won’t tolerate a quick hook for someone who is an alum, a former player, a Terre Haute native, and who’s been honest about the time it will take to end the Sycamores’ long nightmare.
These are bad times, there’s no doubt at about it. Bad times are when you find out who your friends are. In the wake of another demoralizing loss, Miles and the ISU program probably don’t feel like they have many friends at the moment.
But they don’t deserve some of their too-quick-to-hit-the-panic button naysayers either.
Note: Due to a computer problem, Golden was not able to live blog the South Dakota State game on Saturday night. Apologies for any inconvenience.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.