Indiana State Director of Athletics Sherard Clinkscales watched the Sycamores' men's basketball season that ended with a disappointing 15-16 mark — and ISU's flat Missouri Valley Conference Tournament demise that resulted in a 77-55 first-round loss to Valparaiso on Thursday — with the same emotion many of ISU's fans have viewed the Sycamores through.
Clinkscales prides himself on the accountability he demands from his athletic staff, so it's no surprise his comments on ISU's basketball season one day after it ended were candid and pointed.
"Obviously, the outcome yesterday was disappointing, particularly for our fans. I hear a lot about the apathy or cynicism of our fans. I can't dispute those when we have what happened yesterday," Clinkscales said in a Friday phone conversation.
With five straight losing seasons, the question of a possible coaching change is a legitimate one. Clinkscales declined to discuss anything regarding a possible buyout of men's basketball coach Greg Lansing's contract. After Lansing's five-year contract rollover was canceled after the 2017 season, two years remain on Lansing's deal. It would cost $500,000 to buy the remaining years of Lansing's contract out in addition to paying the salary of Lansing's replacement.
Given the financial reality at ISU? That prospect is unlikely. The kind of discretionary money that would be required for a buyout isn't available in the existing athletic budget. With enrollment down at ISU for a second consecutive year? Student fees, which provide a significant portion of ISU's athletic budget, are also down.
ISU fans have expressed dissatisfaction with the current situation to Clinkscales and he understands where disappointed Sycamores fans are coming from.
"I come from a power five school. To me? The more the fans are angry, upset and not satisfied? The more engaged the base is. I think we have that here. I think there's more of that than the lethargy of fans," Clinkscales said.
"I think they're frustrated by the fact that they want to get excited about being a Sycamore athletic fan. They want to know when they come to a game, that no matter the outcome? The leave thinking we're fighting and competing and want to come back. They want to see that blue collar work ethic. We've been inconsistent with that," he added.
"There are far more people in this community pulling for us to be successful and want to hold on to something from a consistency standpoint that's going to allow them to think that whatever money they spend or whatever value they're getting from athletics? They're getting some kind of return on that investment and that just hasn't been the case," Clinkscales continued.
Men's basketball is integral to the overall health of the athletic department. It brings in more revenue than any other sport and it also has the potential to create more revenue than any other sport when it's successful.
"I've shared with our president and it's up to the president to share it with whomever she likes, but basketball? We can fundraise all we want, but as far as athletics being in control of what we can bring it based on our own efforts? That are result-oriented that we can control? It's about basketball revenue that we can control through ticket sales, increased sponsorships and everything else," said Clinkscales, who said basketball revenue is more important than ever considering the enrollment decline.
Clinkscales noted that ISU's celebration of the 1979 team and the number retirements of Carl Nicks and Melanie Boeglin were a way to remind fans that ISU can achieve greatness. But he also said the enthusiasm and support those events created are tough to sustain if the current product isn't up to standard.
"This year we were kind of intentional about doing some things to recognize some of the past so we can catch the fire of some of the things we've done in the past for the present. The fans responded and came out to support, but when we don't compete when we should? Then they get despondent and the cynicism and frustration sets in," Clinkscales admitted.
Clinkscales acknowledged that ISU's budget — the lowest in the MVC — makes things more difficult for men's basketball and for nearly all of ISU's coaches. But Clinkscales also notes that every coach who came to ISU knew that would likely be a challenge they faced going in. That makes it hard to use it as an excuse after the fact.
"I hear that a lot and I think that's built into the psyche of some the people that are around [ISU]. Greg [Lansing], Lindsey [Allman, volleyball coach], Curt [Mallory, football coach], Vicki [Hall, women's basketball coach, Pooch [Mike Perniciaro, softball coach] ... all of them. We have to get through that together, get after it, and do what we're supposed to do as people in athletics, coaches and administrators," Clinkscales said.
Clinkscales provided examples from the past he felt overcame institutional hurdles.
"Coach John McNichols [former track and field and cross country coach] was just inducted into the [MVC] Hall of Fame. You look at the success he had before his passing, a lot of his success was built with facilities that weren't quality or up to standard. You look at what coach [Bob] Warn did in establishing his baseball program. We have challenges, but the part that frustrates me? We accept opportunities knowing those challenges and we still have to overcome them no matter what. Those expectations don't just go away," Clinkscales noted.
As far as basketball is concerned? Clinkscales will meet with Lansing next week as he always does with his coaches after the season is over.
"Our talent level is on-par, if not a little bit above, with the rest of the conference. I feel really good about some of our young players and some of their development, particularly Tyreke [Key]. I thought he really came on towards the end of the year," Clinkscales said.
"But overall, like a lot of our sports, we need to learn we've got to recruit, for lack of a better word, that killer instinct for finishing. I don't think that's a talent thing, I think that's a mental thing. I think that's a thing you have to find and seek out as a coach or recruiter. You have to find student-athletes that have that mentality for finishing. I think that's something we're still acquiring."
Clinkscales thinks Lansing is doing his best, but also made it clear that college athletics is a bottom-line business.
"I believe and know that Greg and his staff are doing all they can to motivate and bring in the best talent they can. I know all of that, but we're all evaluated," Clinkscales said. "I preach this from our administrative staff and everyone I oversee that we have to be accountable. Greg and his staff certainly understand that. What we go into? That's between coach and I.
"I believe we have talent. Being in athletic administration? I've seen cases where it was an absence of talent. We have talent here. We have the resources for our student-athletes to be successful. We are not a poor department. We have benefactors and people who support men's basketball with what they can provide. We're doing very well in that regard. We'll sit down next week, talk together, and be optimistic about next year and how it plays out," Clinkscales said.