One year ago, I used this column to be critical of my alma mater, Indiana University, while lauding upstate rival Purdue.
In the nearly five years I've been writing for Indianapolis Business Journal, no column of mine has received as much reaction as that one.
And while 90 percent of that piece was devoted to the athletics programs-football, in particular-the 10 percent in which I referred to the respective images and leaderships of Indiana and Purdue received the most attention.
The column served as the catalyst for further examinations of IU in other publications and drew strong rebuttals from university leaders.
And, in the wonderful world of the Internet-and because I ended the column by proclaiming that Purdue had become "the Indiana university"-it was circulated among Boilermakers everywhere, who were overjoyed.
My motivation was threefold. First, frustration at watching what I (and others, including many alumni who shared my views) believed to be the steady erosion of athletic and academic excellence on the Bloomington campus, marked by party-hearty students and apathetic alumni. Second, because I believe IU can and should aspire higher. And third, because I believed Purdue-under the leadership of its ubiquitous and energetic president, Martin Jischke, and the able guidance of Athletic Director Morgan Burke-had left Indiana breathing its exhaust fumes.
My only consolation: IU always will have the prettier campus (bricks are bricks, Boilermakers, no matter how many ways you stack 'em) and the Hoosier soccer program-fÃºtbol over football-continues its national prominence.
Now, a week before the Old Oaken Bucket game-and isn't it ironic that Purdue has a better chance of spoiling IU's season than IU does of spoiling Purdue's?-I'd like to offer an update.
Presidentially speaking, it's still a mismatch. There's no question in my mind that Purdue has gone into one of its research labs and successfully cloned Jischke. I swear there must be 15 of him, because nobody could be that visible. Indiana's Adam Hermit, er, Herbert, meanwhile, appears with the regularity of an eclipse. Solar, not lunar. Is Jim Morris still interested in the presidency of his alma mater? We could only wish.
Despite that, IU appears to be making a modest comeback, although its No. 74 national ranking by U.S. News and World Report (14 spots behind Purdue) is nothing to run up the flagpole. What do magazines know, anyway? But wait a minute. IU is trumpeting the fact that Newsweek dubbed it the nation's "Hottest Big State School" and, for once, it wasn't a reference to the party scene. More good news: Both donor and research dollars also are way up.
Athletically-and this is a sports column, after all-the Hoosiers have made strides as well. I was initially skeptical concerning new Athletic Director Rick Greenspan, but I have become convinced he has that department headed back from the post-Bob Knight/Mike McNeeley/ Cam Cameron/Gerry DiNardo swoon. Greenspan's decision to fire DiNardo and bring in Terry Hoeppner was both right and necessary. And the game-day football atmosphere in Bloomington is nightand-day different from the past eight years, the most recent tailspin notwithstanding. Hoeppner will make IU football matter again.
Greenspan also delivered the proper kick in the wallet to basketball coach Mike Davis, giving him a mandate to put a competitive, well-coached team on the floor, or be gone. Greenspan made a judicious choice in hiring Sharon Versyp to coach IU's women's team (yes, she's a former Boilermaker). Overall, Indiana reclaimed the Simon Cup for winning the allsports competition with Purdue.
Meanwhile, up above the Wabash River, things have gone awry. You could start with the fact that an ag school can't grow grass in its stadium and that the football team has been forced to practice at a junior high school, but that's laughable compared with other problems.
Joe Tiller's program is a mess with literal infighting among the troops and it seems he's looked everywhere but in the mirror for excuses. Purdue fans with short memories, as spoiled as that Halloween pumpkin is by now, want a housecleaning. Basketball bottomed out in Gene Keady's last year and Matt Painter is off to a rough start with a number of players involved in a variety of scrapes and suspensions. Even Kristy Curry's women's program has slipped a couple of notches. And some grumble that Burke, the former swimmer, has devoted too many athletic department resources to non-revenue sports. Go, women's volleyball, go.
Purdue's pomposity has been punctured. Boiler down, except for that danged Jischke. All 15 of him.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.