The long-term future of the Crossroads Classic appears secure.
It seemed less so a week ago, based on comments made by Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass to a website covering the school’s athletics program.
If Glass was having doubts about IU’s involvement in the all-Indiana hoops double-header, he wouldn't be alone. There's a growing number of IU supporters who think playing in the event is a bad idea for a number of reasons.
Glass spoke with IBJ on Tuesday to set the record straight.
“IU and I are 100 percent committed to the Crossroads Classic,” Glass said.
The participants—Indiana, Purdue, Butler and Notre Dame universities—have signed to play in the event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse through 2019.
Beyond that, it’s difficult to say. Despite Glass’ confident assertions on Tuesday, agendas in college basketball tend to change as fast as those in politics.
News that IU remains committed to the event should be music to the ears of many in Indianapolis. Lots of groups benefit from the event. It’s just that IU might be the least of them. That doesn’t seem to bother Glass.
“It’s been suggested to me in a variety of ways that IU puts more in this than the other partners. If we’re putting a little more in the kitty than we’re taking out, that’s OK,” he added. “As the state’s two biggest research institutes, I think it’s appropriate for IU and Purdue to give back to the capital city.”
And when the current contract runs out?
“I don’t see any reason not to continue to have it [beyond 2019],” Glass said. “I expect it to continue long after I’m gone.”
Glass’ comments to IBJ were a bit different in tone to what he told the website Inside the Hall last week when he said the event was preventing the Hoosiers from playing in higher-profile events. From that, it would be easy to conclude IU has one foot out the door.
And it would be easy for Glass to justify an exit.
Organizers of the CBS Sports Classic, another four-team double-header which like the Crossroads Classic was held on Saturday, already have come calling. Officials for that event wanted a four-team lineup featuring Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and IU. Indiana turned down that opportunity to take its place alongside college basketball’s royalty due to its Crossroads Classic commitment.
Since it couldn’t get IU, the event settled on Ohio State as its fourth team. The CBS Sports Classic lineups are now set at least through 2019.
In essence, IU opted for an event with three lower-profile teams in a market where it already has tremendous exposure. Meanwhile, one of its chief recruiting rivals—OSU—snagged a coveted spot in a nationally televised event certain to catch the fancy of potential sponsors, donors and recruits.
With hectic conference schedules and the desire for big-time teams like IU to play a certain number of non-conference home games, there is a very small window for schools to play high-profile showcase events like the Maui Invitational or the CBS Sports Classic. One could argue that playing an in-state double-header on the weekend after finals is not the best use of the Hoosiers' time.
The CBS Sports Classic was held this year at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In 2014, it was held in Chicago and last year in Brooklyn, two markets where IU seeks more exposure. The event also aired nationally on CBS.
Meanwhile, IU and Butler played before a much smaller—mostly regional—TV audience on the Big Ten Network for the Crossroads Classic.
The Crossroads Classic’s biggest benefactors are the Indiana Pacers, who operate the Fieldhouse; the city and its downtown businesses, which feel most of the economic impact from the event; and state basketball fans.
There’s no denying that Butler also gets a big lift from the event. It puts the Bulldogs on a stage with its big in-state brothers.
And if Butler proves it can bite the big boys—as it did Saturday by beating IU—the school gets a big recruiting bounce by proving it’s a viable option for players coming out of the fertile central Indiana high school hoops market.
It might have occurred to someone in Bloomington by now that Butler is doing just fine making a national name for itself without getting an unwitting assist from IU.
Glass, of course, would never say that publicly. And neither would IU coach Tom Crean. But certainly the thought has crossed their minds.
If you think Glass and Crean don’t think about the schedule’s impact on recruiting and other aspects of the school’s basketball business, tell me why they refuse to play Kentucky in Indianapolis, as UK officials want. And don’t tell me Glass and Crean are bent on playing the game in front of IU’s students at Assembly Hall. They rightly have no desire to give the Wildcats any more exposure in this market—one of the top producers of high school basketball talent certainly in the Midwest if not the nation—than they already have.
Butler’s no Kentucky, but anyone can see they’re a growing concern for IU—and Purdue and Notre Dame for that matter—in the recruiting game.
Southport’s Joey Brunk was a recent big-time recruit from Indianapolis to choose Butler over IU. While Brunk has some developing to do, the signing of the 6-10 big man is a sign of Butler’s growing recruiting prowess. Every time Butler plays a competitive game with IU, not to mention wins, that prowess grows.
Luckily for Indianapolis officials and Indiana hoops fans, Glass is not only an IU guy, he’s a man with deep ties to the Circle City. Before taking the job at IU, he was a long-time Indianapolis attorney and served as president of the city’s Capital Improvement Board—which owns Bankers Life Fieldhouse—under Mayor Bart Peterson.
Still, his recent remarks to Inside the Hall have left some wondering.
“I believe we’re an elite status program and should be in those kind of [national] events and have been invited to be in those kind of events,” Glass told Inside the Hall days before this year’s Crossroads Classic. “I think our recent success against the likes of North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky shows that it’s not just a historical perspective. It’s a current perspective. And that is a drawback, I think, of our commitment to the Crossroads Classic.”
Glass also told Inside the Hall this: “I’d be open to looking at whether there are other dates that work well for the Crossroads Classic and keep it viable, but at the same time, allow all of us some scheduling flexibility to perhaps participate in some of these other important opportunities for us.”
Glass, however, admitted Tuesday that finding new Crossroads Classic dates that work for all partners would be difficult.
Despite his affinity for Indianapolis, Glass’ main commitment now is to IU. His primary responsibility is to look after the school’s athletics department. He’s acutely aware that the men’s basketball program is a primary revenue driver and the school’s biggest marketing engine.
In other words, Glass has every reason to be conflicted about this event and IU’s future involvement in it.
He didn’t sound conflicted Tuesday.
“The Crossroads Classic is a staple of December basketball in this state and beyond,” Glass said. “These are the kinds of events where Indiana basketball belongs.”