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Sports Business

IU basketball program proving it's bigger than Bob Knight

March 5, 2012
KEYWORDS Sports Business

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.

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