News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 5, 2012

TODD GOLDEN: MIC detractors: Be careful what you wish for

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Last Friday, the Indianapolis Star reported that the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference — home of Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South — is exploring expansion. The league could grow to as many as 16 schools.

MIC expansion could — emphasize … could — signal the end of the line for North and South, members of the MIC since 1998. The article by Kyle Neddenriep said that the MIC has only invited schools “in the Indianapolis donut.”

The article openly speculated about North and South’s future in the league and one would-be expansion candidate — Indianapolis Pike — expressed interest in the MIC, but admitted its interest would cool off if it had to travel to Terre Haute.

The story jives with rumors from multiple sources several of us at the Tribune-Star had heard prior to the article being published. Sports reporter Andy Amey has been working on a story of his own on the topic.

At this point, it must be stressed that anything regarding the MIC is speculative, but it also must be noted that the handwriting on the wall is ominous.

Noting that the North and South MIC purge could be very real, I expressed multiple reservations about it on Twitter last Friday. What I got in response from some — not all — folks was joy.

The reaction ranged from good riddance to let’s use this opportunity to join up with the Bloomington/Evansville/west-side Indy schools.

If only it were that simple.

The comments pre-suppose two things: 1. That there’s a perfect-fit conference out there the Terre Haute schools can just slide into to replace the MIC. 2. That Bloomington/Evansville/westside Indy schools want to pair up with North and South in the first place.

Independence isn’t an option. There are only 26 independent schools in Indiana. Travel would be an unmitigated nightmare for North and South if that’s the route they elected to take.

Unfortunately, geography is an enemy Terre Haute can’t conquer. There isn’t another 5A/4A school within 50 miles of Terre Haute.

Yes, the schools in Bloomington (also vulnerable if Conference Indiana is picked over) and Lafayette (definitely vulnerable if the Hoosier Crossroads Conference is decimated as is likely if the MIC expands), or Evansville might make some semblance of sense to hook up with on paper.

But in reality, those schools and their conferences have concerns and parameters of their own that aren’t just going to be shoved aside for North and South’s benefit.

My biggest concern, however, is for North and South’s student-athletes.

Though the MIC losses have piled up for North and South in some sports, so have opportunities that might not have been there if not for the MIC. Opportunities that would be harder to come by if the Patriots and Braves beat up on smaller schools for the sake of better W-L records, which is what some fans want.

Right now, Terre Haute’s athletes and teams get to be tested against the best of the best. There’s a lot to be said for that, even if on a year-to-year basis it can be frustrating to absorb defeats given the depth of talent in the larger schools in the MIC.

On my Indiana State beat, I look at a player like Jake Odum, who was initially ignored as a potential recruit at South.

One selling point Odum had was that he proved he could perform in the MIC. It led directly to scholarship rather than a walk-on offer from ISU. Three years later, not only has Odum had a successful Sycamore career, but he’s considered one of the best point guards in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Does any of that happen if Odum hadn’t played in the MIC? Perhaps … perhaps not.

Though North and South’s teams are often on the short end in the MIC, not all have been. Does Terre Haute South’s girls basketball team win its state title in 2002 if it hadn’t been tested in the MIC? One of South’s two losses in 2002 was to Lawrence North and it beat Ben Davis in a tense semistate game.

Terre Haute North and South’s tennis, golf, volleyball, baseball and softball teams have been pushed to some high peaks, partly because of participation in the MIC. Even football, the sport where North and South are at the biggest disadvantage against the cream of the MIC crop, there have been beneficiaries.

In my time, at ISU alone, athletes like Jamie Petrowski, Daniel Millington, Brock Lough, Michael Mardis and several others have proved they could thrive at the Division I level. Take away the MIC and are those players as ready to perform at that level as they would’ve been otherwise? Perhaps … perhaps not.

Current football athletes like North’s Calvin Blank (Ball State) and Austin Lewis (Western Michigan) as well as South’s Danny Etling (Purdue) are FBS-bound. Without the MIC, does that happen?

I hope the MIC speculation is just that and both North and South stay. Perhaps a bigger MIC can be a more fair MIC. If the MIC goes to 16 schools, perhaps it can have large and small-school divisions — or more accurately — gargantuan and mega divisions.

North and South might not have the depth of talent that a 3,000-enrollment school has, but it gets proven time and again that there is talent here. The MIC gives Terre Haute’s athletes a chance to show it.

But if North and South are compelled to leave the MIC, a choice that admittedly might not ultimately be theirs, just be careful what you wish for. Departure from the MIC might improve W-L records, but it could also come at the expense of opportunities for Terre Haute athletes.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.