IU basketball program proving it's bigger than Bob Knight

March 5, 2012
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It’s easier to say out loud after this basketball season. It certainly was palpable at Assembly Hall last night as Indiana University wrapped up its regular season schedule with a victory over Purdue.

Although there’s a faction—growing smaller by the day—that will never admit it, most can now say that IU basketball is bigger than Bob Knight.

And while this year’s return to prominence drives the point home, the proof is actually in the darkness that preceded this rebound season.

During the 2008-2009 season, in which the team won only six of 31 games, the team brought in $15.2 million of the athletics department’s $60.6 million in revenue. Only seven Div. I schools nationwide brought in more through their basketball program. None of them had fewer victories. Not even close.

During the 2009-10 season, another year of disappointment on the court, the team scored $17.8 million in revenue.

Since Assembly Hall was virtually sold out every game last season and this, it’s difficult to imagine revenue going a lot higher, but it will certainly nudge closer to $20 million. That’s almost one-third of the school’s entire athletic department budget.

And there’s no shortage of IU apparel sold this year due to the basketball team. That money will go in a general fund separate from IU basketball revenue. The hoops team gets a big assist nonetheless.

In any given year, only four to six Div. I colleges in the nation count on their basketball programs so heavily for revenue. And the way the Hoosiers football team has been performing, it’s a good thing school supporters didn’t turn their backs on the basketball team the way some predicted in the wake of the 2000 firing of Knight.

Yes, Bob Knight is a big part of the IU program. Same goes for all the players who played under him. And yes, the fans in Assembly Hall still roar whenever an image of Knight is posted on the video board.

But if we’ve learned one thing over the last four years, it’s that IU students and many alums clearly supported the team sans Knight, and even sans victories. It’s a part of Hoosier culture no matter if Knight ever accepts an invitation to come back to Assembly Hall.

These days the roar afforded current coach Tom Crean is drawing ever closer than that given to Knight’s image. I must admit, I’ve had my doubts about Crean’s ability to raise this program from the ashes.

I think he’s been able to do that because he realized just how big this program is. I think he realized it sooner and to a greater degree than many of the school’s alumni and Hoosier natives.

Crean realized a fundamental truth. There’s no shortage of high school basketball players who want to play at Assembly Hall and wear the candy striped warm-up pants.  The Indiana-Purdue rivalry rolls on without Knight and his black-and-gold counterpart, Gene Keady.

There is no shortage of IU students and alum who want to support the program—even if that means without Knight or even victories. From the look of the crowd yesterday, there's no shortage of fans these days also willing to don the candy stripes.

In some ways, the path that IU has traveled is similar to that traveled by the University of Kentucky post Adolph Rupp.

Yes, there have certainly been some unique twists and turns in Bloomington. But the realization is the same.

The program is bigger than any one person.

It’s OK to admit it. IU basketball made Bob Knight. Not the other way around.

  • IU Basketball Made Bob Knight?
    That's an interesting twist. By using this logic, Bob Knight would not have enjoyed any success had he coached anywhere else, because IU made him. Wondering if those gate receipts and merchandise sales in the past few years would be so lucrative if Knight hadn't won those National Championships? Oh, that's right. IU made Bob Knight. They would have won those championships without him.
    • Off by a million miles
      ...and The United States of America made Abraham Lincoln
    • Bob Knight is old news
      IU was a great program before Knight came to Bloomington as the Hoosiers won two titles under Branch McCracken. However, there is no denying that Knight turned IU into an elite program. Unfortunately for the Knight loyalists like myself, his current presence (or lack of) with IU is completely irrelevant now. Future players such as Blackmon and Lyles probably cannot even remember watching an IU game during Knight's tenure as they were in grade school at the time. Before Crean's contract is up, IU will be recruiting players who were not even born when Knight coached at IU. The bottom line is Bob Knight is old news. Whether Knight returns to Assembley Hall one day or continues to remain bitter, it will not impact the program one way or another from a recruiting standpoint. In summary, Bob Knight made IU a top program but it is time to stop talking about him as he no longer is a factor in this program's future.
      • It's about the TEAM....dummy!
        Collaboration, leadership, cooperation and tradition - those magical ingredients that when mixed together at the right time and with the right measure of care, create that wonderful soup we call Indiana Basketball. None of the parts work unless they all work. It's about the TEAM! Bob Knight was a brilliant, ahead of his time, basketball savant. Unfortunately, he is also an angry and stubborn man and in the end, that is what removed him from IU's hallowed halls. Bob Knight is now part of IU history and vice versa. That doesn't mean we can't love him and root for today's miraculous Hoosiers and their coach - they are forging the next chapter of the IU basketball story - and I like where the story is headed!
      • RMK
        IU was a good basketball school, but RMK made it a great basketball school. But it's nice to see that they're competitive again.
      • Reply to IU Wins
        You hit the nail on the head! I remember when Knight first came to IU. He emphasized defense like no other; was innovative; and, more intense than anyone in Basketball, let alone the Big Ten. As time and success went on, he remained true to his methods; until, from my view, it became passé; and, at the end of the IU saga, he became arrogant, irritable and boorish. His last 10 years there, he was merely good, not great; and, he never reached the potential of his players or himself.

        After leaving IU, some of the original Knight surfaced and now, except for his attitude towards IU, he is witty, insightful, charming and incredibly entertaining. Too bad it could not have happened at IU.
        • Self made man and too bad
          Bob Knight made Bob Knight what he is today:
          An unemployed, bitter egomaniac. We paid a terrible price to have him as IU's Coach.He embarassed our University on a regular basis. We didn't have to put up with his antics to have a successful program of which we could be proud. See Coach Tom Crean for evidence of that. I'd be glad to invite Knight back to Assembly Hall if and when he sincerely apologizes, which of course means never.
          • ARE YOU KIDDING?
            Yes Bob Knight had some anger issues and did some things that were probably inexcusible. however, like it or not, he did more for Indiana University than about any other person ever did. his charity work, devotion to building the library, commitment to his players and school are hard to match. he won 3 national championships (which could have easily been 4) and changed the way basketball was played. He did all of that with "B" grade players. the way he was run out of bloomington was disgraceful. then the same buffoons who ran him out almost ruined the program. I know that many fans checked out until thankfully someone had the brains to hire Tom Crean - he is a man of integrity and honor and will bring IU back to its glory days. The day the hired him was the day I came became a fan again.

            And comparing IU to Kentucky? Really? Anthony - you obviously did not go to IU - did you even grow up in Indiana?

            IU made Bob Knight...what a joke.
            • A good article that could benefit from spell-check
              Check your:

              days vs. day's
              proceeded vs. preceded
              striped vs. stripped
            • Really?
              Herman B Wells would like to have a word with you.
              • re:Really
                Excuse me -- Dustin Demilt, Herman B Wells would like a word with you.
              • IU made IU
                Good article, Anthony. I understood how you were comparing Adolf Rupp with Bob Knight as longtime coaches of elite college programs and the changes that have occurred at both schools after their departures.

                Coach Knight ran himself out of town by being a egomaniacal buffoon. Nowadays he refuses to acknowledge his coaching tenure at IU but has no problem returning to Indiana every few months or so to fleece the Bob Knight faithful with tired anecdotes and jokes.

                Thanks to Coach Crean and AD Fred Glass, IU has returned to the elite program status established years ago by Branch McCracken and continued by Bob Knight.

              • Let's Keep Things in Perspective
                Knight probably did more for Indiana athletics than anyone, though you have to deduct for his boorish and downright abusive behavior. But for the university? Herman B Wells wins hands down. What a legacy.

              • Bob Knight
                I'm 68 and watched IU Basketball on black and white television sponsored by Chesty Potato Chips on Ch. 4. I was a Bob Knight fan, but enough is enough! Bob Knight does not care about the IU FANS he had at IU or he would take the cobb out of his butt and visit IU in appreciation of IU Loyal Fans.
              • Bobby Knight
                I know that Bobby Knight is thrilled for IU's basketball success! For the players, the entire student body and the university in general. (pardon the pun)
                • Knight Time Anthony
                  Anthony you have to be kidding me with your conclusion. Knight is the one with a huge assist from the many players he molded into Nationally competive teams year after year that created this passion for IU basketball. Fans have stood by the program during the darkest of times because of this undying loyalty that was created by Knight and his teams. Bob had his faults for sure and it was too bad he had to go (he gave Miles Brand no other option) but to say that IU made Bob Knight is ridiculous. What did Lew Watson, Mike Davis or Sampson do with the keys to the IU platform? And don't try to remind me about Davis going to the Championship Game
                • who made who
                  very well stated facts (trenter),no one is saying iu would have lost its basketbal program.yet the bank account would not have been near as big with out knight. knight was fired when he was posied to make a two yr run at the title also , new coach after knight couldnt bring it home as knights team left it got worse and worse and worse , so ok money still was around at i.u, duh,, its still a doctors college , lets wait and see when crean bring a national title home and did any one mention a perfect record by knight around 76 lol anthony what was you 4 then lol you must have been a ball state grad lol
                • ole news
                  as you said your self you are a old i.u fan cause of knight so are many other who have not passed on yet, we could have been purdue fans instead , if it wasnt for knight , for as long as there is older fans around knights name will always come up until i.u gets a coach of that caliper (still waiting ) lol
                • How does this guy stay employed?
                  Yet another ridiculous column! Does this guy just try to dream up the craziest things he can say to create controversy?

                  Now, I'm a huge Bob Knight fan and I'm still a huge IU fan that has had season tickets before and after. The thing this "writer" is missing is that it's impossible to say whether people like me would have the same loyalty to IU basketball if we had not experienced the glory years with Bob Knight. If IU had been mediocre the entire time I was growing up and at IU would I have the same loyalty to ride out some bad years to the program getting respectable again? Maybe not.

                  I could see writing a column suggesting that IU basketball has survived after Bob Knight. I'm not sure that one Big Ten title since Knight left and a 5th place finish this year are a lot to be proud of but if you want to base it on Assembly Hall still drawing crowds then fine.

                  Now, suggesting that IU basketball "made" Bob Knight and would be just as big today whether they had hired Bob Knight or anyone else back in the early 70's is insane. The wrong hire instead of Knight could have easily resulted in IU being nowhere near the program it is today.

                  Knight immediately took an awful Texas Tech -program and brought them to respectability. The bottom line is Knight won everywhere he was at. As much as I hate to say it, IU has really struggled on the court since Knight left. Here's a little homework for you Anthony. Take a look at Indiana's overall record since Knight left and tell me when the last time IU was that bad over that long of a stretch of time was. Then tell us who made who...
                  • Dirty program
                    Just like Kentucky, been on probation. DIRTY PROGRAM
                  • Well Done
                    The article is well done even if it does state what long term IU fans already knew. IU basketball was around and respected long before spoiled brat Bobby set foot on the court as an OSU player then IU coach.
                    Don't overlook another factor that played a role in Bobby's rise to fame and crash to embarrassment - the impact ESPN and cable had on college basketball. IU and a lot of other programs and coaches benefited from the 24-hour a day coverage of college basketball. Unfortunately, it also brought focused global attention on the spoiled brat's juvenile and detrimental behavior that cast a shadow on IU in general.
                    For too many years the mention of IU brought smirks and jokes about Bobby from others around the country.
                    Now that the program appears to be back on solid footing without a coach's embarrassing or rule-breaking behavior to detract, there is a warm and genuine positive environment back in Assembly Hall.
                  • Reflections on Bobby Knight
                    I agree with Allen; I came to IU in 1972, Knight's second year in Bloomington. We forget how he transformed basketball by changing the "Hurry'n Hoosiers" into a controlling, defense-oriented team that revolutionized the college game and was the dominat team through 1976. The teams we see today, playing an agressive defense, can attribute all that to Bobby Knight.

                    As time went on, however, the "other" Bobby Knight became visible; the one that hit cops in Puerto Rico, stuffed an LSU fan into a trash can, choked Neil Reed, sparred with reporters and insulted their intelligence. If you haven't seen videos of some of his antics, I suggest you google him and look. He became a liability to the University, and he was canned.

                    For folks who don't give a whit about the university as an institution, then win at all costs becomes the mantra. It was very much heard during the first Crean years, and was also leveled at Mike Davis. To you I say, those of us who love the university first, care about its academic reputation, the Bobby Knight foolishness had to end. Miles Brand reacted to that, and the "icon" was gone.

                    Bobby Knight only recruited one superstar to Bloomington, Isiah Thomas, who only played for him for 2 years. As time went on, his reputation followed him, and my guess is that parents didn't want their kids subject to his arbitrary abuse, all in the name of winning. His supporters point to the graduation rate (but it dropped as his tenure progressed) and lack of NCAA violations. All true, but his personal manner soured those of us who love IU as a university, not as just a sports venue.

                    Tom Crean has returned IU to glory, which is great, but he has done it in a manner that is respectable. I hope he wins another championship, but if he doesn't, he will have achieved the goal of making IU a respectable school with a clean and premiere basketball program. Now if only Kevin Wilson can ditch his Bobby Knight-mimicking ways and emulate Tom Crean, something good might happen in football too (although that IS a lot to ask).

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                  1. Great article and post scripts by Mike L (Great addition to IBJ BTW). Bobby's stubborn as a mule, and doubt if he ever comes back to IU. But the love he would receive would be enormous. Hope he shows some time, but not counting on it.

                  2. When the Indiana GOP was going around the State selling the Voucher bill they were promising people that the vouchers would only be for public charter schools. They lied. As usual.

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                  4. Jim, your "misleading" numbers comment is spot on. This is the spin these posers are putting on it. News flash, fans: these guys lie. They are not publicly traded so no one holds them accountable for anything they say. The TV numbers are so miniscule to begin with any "increase" produces double digit "growth" numbers. It's ridiculous to think that anything these guys have done has awakened the marketplace. What have they done? Consolidate the season so they run more races on consecutive weekends? And this creates "momentum." Is that the same momentum you enjoy when you don't race between August and March? Keep in mind that you are running teams who barely make ends meet ragged over the summer to accomplish this brilliant strategy of avoiding the NFL while you run your season finale at midnight on the East Coast. But I should not obfuscate my own point: any "ratings increase" is exactly what Jim points to - the increased availability of NBC Sports in households. Look fans, I love the sport to but these posers are running it off a cliff. Miles wants to declare victory and then run for Mayor. I could go on and on but bottom line for God's sake don't believe a word they say. Note to Anthony - try doing just a little research instead of reporting what these pretenders say and then offering an "opinion" no more informed than the average fan.

                  5. If he's finally planning to do the right thing and resign, why not do it before the election? Waiting until after means what - s special election at tax payer expense? Appointment (by whom?) thus robbing the voters of their chance to choose? Does he accrue some additional financial advantage to waiting, like extra pension payments? What's in it for him? That's the question that needs to be asked.