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Sports Columns

June 5, 2012

FROM THE PRESS BOX: ISU progresses under Prettyman

Sycamore AD’s goals don’t exclude national championships

EUGENE, ORE. — He didn’t say a word, but it was as clear as Indiana State Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman sat in the PK Park dugout and watched the Sycamores take batting practice prior to their NCAA Regional at Oregon last Thursday, he beamed with pride.

The baseball Sycamores were one of two spring ISU sports to win Missouri Valley Conference championships, with men’s track and field being the other. ISU finished fifth in the MVC’s all-sports points, its highest placing in many years.

The Sycamores’ baseball at-large bid was their first at-large in any sport since 2000. Their national profile appearance in Eugene comes one year after men’s basketball had its time in the national spotlight with the MVC’s automatic bid in 2011. Football, once a joke, is now respectable.

These are heady times for the ISU athletic department, but Prettyman doesn’t want to get complacent.

“My goal is to be at a press conference after winning a national championship. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think we could win national championships at Indiana State. As soon as that discontinues to be my goal, that’s when it’s time for me to change,” Prettyman said.

Prettyman was talking specifically about baseball when asked the question, but it could apply to any sport at ISU. To be sure, it’s an ambitious goal, and its one that’s likely shared by most Division I programs in theory.

The rub is how to get there.

“I think we have the passion and the personnel. I’m not sure we have the budgets, but I think we do have those other factors that will allow us to be successful,” Prettyman said.

I’m not sure we have the budgets. Some version of that has been the oft-heard mantra at ISU for generations. It will continue to be, so long as collegiate athletic programs spend like drunken sailors.

There are factors helping ISU’s budgets. With enrollment significantly up the last two years, it has created more revenue for the university as whole, including athletics.

Prettyman also reports directly to ISU President Daniel Bradley, which cuts out bureaucracy that had existed in the past and fosters a same-page mentality between the two.

But there are challenges too. The ISU Foundation has played an increasing role in helping ISU’s bottom line from an athletics standpoint, but the Foundation is in administrative flux. Gene Crume and Nate Green (Sycamore Athletic Foundation) are both gone. The Foundation is committed to ISU athletics, but until it has permanent new leadership, the way it goes about its business is in question for the time being.

ISU also has to square the circle between funding for programs via salaries and recruiting budgets versus facilities expenditures.

Bob Warn Field still needs improvements, as evidenced by failed bids to host the MVC baseball tournament in 2012 and 2013.

Memorial Stadium has had significant improvements done to the periphery of the facility, but the crumbling physical plant of the stadium itself and its long-term viability are very questionable.

Though in excellent shape for its age, Hulman Center still needs to be remodeled for modernization and revenue-streaming purposes.

“We’ve come so far [budgetarily], but we have a long way to go. The support from the president and vice-presidents in regards to the budget has been great, but it’s not something that’s going to be solved in one fell swoop,” Prettyman said.

Perhaps the biggest factor in ISU’s budgetary favor is Prettyman himself. Under Prettyman’s stewardship, nearly every ISU athletic program is better than it was when he arrived in 2005.

ISU has an athletic director that has proven that he can get results regardless of budgetary hurdles. It would seem that investing in ISU athletics under Prettyman would be money well-spent.

• MVC should see light on DBU – In the credit where credit is due department, the MVC owes Dallas Baptist’s baseball team a big thank you.

Without DBU on the schedule, it’s unlikely the league would have been the fifth-best in the nation RPI-wise. DBU’s RPI was in the 20s and ISU benefited more than most. Winning its series against DBU in April might have been the tipping point that helped the Sycamores to be chosen for the NCAA Tournament.

DBU showed interest in joining the league in the late 2000s. The league and the Patriots agreed to a two-year probationary period where DBU was added to the MVC essentially as a shadow school.

DBU played most league opponents – Illinois State was a notable exception – home-and-home during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. DBU played some teams in a one-year agreement. ISU played in Dallas in 2011 and hosted the Patriots this season.

During the probationary period, however, the winds of college realignment pushed DBU towards membership with other Texas schools in the Western Athletic Conference. It appeared the MVC’s flirtation with DBU would amount to a short-lived affair rather than a long-term relationship.

But since then, the WAC has imploded. The Texas schools that made the WAC attractive to DBU have all gone elsewhere thanks to their established or burgeoning football programs. The football-less Patriots need a home and the MVC should make a run at them again.

Why is DBU attractive? Put simply, it’s been one of the better college baseball teams in the last five years. The Patriots played in a Super Regional in 2011 and were on the cusp again as of this writing as they were to play TCU in a regional championship game on Monday night.

To solidify the quality of baseball in the MVC, it would seem that DBU’s addition would be a no-brainer. But in the Byzantine political world of the MVC with its coaches, administrators and presidents often at cross-purposes, nothing is that simple.

Despite DBU’s track record and its benefit to the MVC in 2012, there is still resistance to their membership. I’ve talked to a lot of league sources about the topic and the amount of stories put out there as to who’s for or against what boggles the mind. It’s often portrayed as an East (against DBU) vs. West (for DBU) school divide, but it’s not that simple.

Few want to talk specifics on the record, but the reasons cited for not including DBU are many.

Some cite financial burden of travel, some have to do with competitive balance (with a few coaches allegedly concerned that the bar will be raised in the league, thus jeopardizing their jobs), some have to do with geography, some cite the short period of DBU success, some involve agendas that have nothing to do with athletics at all – such as DBU’s religious affiliation.

There are allegedly schools that have professed support of DBU membership publicly via coach and administrator, but have opposed membership at the presidential level.

It’s messy, and for the good of the league, it’s time to cut through the bull and see what’s mutually beneficial for every league member.

If DBU is still interested, the proof is in the pudding as to how it benefited the MVC in 2012. DBU’s participation in the league schedule raised everyone’s ship with its tide. At-large bids for the MVC didn’t become a possibility in 2012, they became reality.

ISU coach Rick Heller and Prettyman both saw the benefit and both told me they’re in favor of DBU’s addition. Heller has been an advocate from the beginning.

It’s time for the league’s schools to stop worrying about their own fiefdoms for a moment and realize that they and the league overall is better with DBU in it.

Go get ‘em.

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

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