This idea first hit me in the immediate aftermath of the Kentucky loss.
I ran it by a few longtime IU fans whose opinions I respect and who have a long-term perspective on the program, and I got the same response from all: Hmm…I’ll have to think about that.
That’s exactly how I felt, which confirmed to things: 1) the idea has at least some merit and is worthy of discussion; and 2) I should probably wait a few days and make sure I present it rationally rather than emotionally, as I might have done too soon after the Kentucky game.
Now, with Friday’s Sweet 16 loss well past 72 hours in the rearview, I’m ready to say that the the 2011-12 Indiana Hoosiers deserve a banner in Assembly Hall.
In this post, I will explain why I think this is the case as well as provide my counter arguments to the more than reasonable points that can and probably will be made in opposition of this idea.
Happiness versus Satisfaction
The best place to start is with Will Sheehey, who said something on Saturday that is 99.99% true. Here is Will in front of Cook Hall after the team returned from Atlanta:
Here are Will’s words verbatim:
“We’re not happy with the Sweet 16 and you fans shouldn’t be either. You should expect more from us than that, and that’s why you guys are the great fans that you are.”
It’s a tremendous statement. As a fan of IU, I’m extremely proud to see Will say something like this, especially in the midst of all the back slapping he’s surely getting from fans about how great this season was.
He’s right: more should be expected of Indiana than just making the Sweet 16. With the tradition of Indiana, the fan support, the hefty basketball budget, the talent already accumulated on the roster, and the incredibly fertile recruiting ground just within driving distance of campus, Indiana basketball should be one of the top programs in America on an annual basis. And after three very down years, which were preceded by a slow but steady deterioration of the program’s greatness even before that, it appears that the arrow is back pointing way up for Hoosier hoops again.
But there is one word in Sheehey’s statement that I would change: happy. I would change it to satisfied. “We’re not satisfied with the Sweet 16 and you fans shouldn’t be either.”
That, to me, is the perfect statement because there is an important distinction between happiness and satisfaction: happiness is based on context; satisfaction, on the other hand, is based on less elastic goals and objectives.
With the context of the three seasons preceding this one, it is inarguable that everyone associated with Indiana basketball should have been, and was, happy with what the Hoosiers accomplished this year. But because this is a program that has always measured success in championship banners – Indiana stands third all-time, tied with North Carolina behind UCLA and Kentucky – just getting back to the Sweet 16 is no cause for satisfaction.
I don’t want to take anything away from Will’s statement, and I am being strategically nit-picky for a reason. I love the sentiment he was expressing, and frankly I’m okay if he and the rest of the team are not happy with losing in the Sweet 16. But as fans, we unabashedly should be and are happy with how this season turned out, not just for the wins but for how they were achieved.
This leads me into why I believe this season was banner worthy.
Why The 2011-12 Season Deserves A Banner
Friday morning, hours before Indiana lost to Kentucky, I wrote a post entitled “Why This Season With This Team Simply Can’t End Yet”. That post was my best attempt to sum up what this season meant to me as a fan and why it had been so special. An excerpt:
I can’t shake the preemptive twinge of fear and sadness that this could be the final 40 minutes I get to spend with this particular team and with IU fans in our current frame of mind where nothing is taken for granted and every positive step forward is appreciated and enjoyed to the fullest extent possible. As we know, it won’t always be like that, certainly not collectively as it is now.
That is why, to me, I just don’t care that much about beating Kentucky. I don’t care that much about getting to the Elite 8 for the second time since 1993. Those would be really nice byproducts of a win, sure; but what I really want is just want another 48 hours of celebrating what this group of guys has accomplished this year and over the previous three years, followed by 40 more minutes of enjoying this TEAM playing basketball.
A win tonight would give us that.
Most sports teams are just teams. And most sports seasons are just seasons. This team, this season is different; and I don’t want it to be over.
I was truly proud of how many people commented on the post, tweeted me, or emailed to let me know how much those words and the overall sentiment of the post summed up their thoughts on this IU team. That reaction, plus other better posts I read on other sites, and the pride that was flowing through the #iubb hashtag on Twitter all day Friday and ever since, was truly remarkable. No one was satisfied with the loss Friday night, especially because so many of us truly believed we would win, but I have not seen one IU fan express anything but happiness and pride in what this group of Hoosiers did.
Happiness and pride, however, have never been reason enough to hang a banner in Assembly Hall. Many teams have made IU fans happy, proud, excited, and thousands of other positive emotions. What makes this season so different, different enough that it deserves a banner without having included a championship of any kind or a Final Four appearance, goes back to context…and the all-important how.
I grew up believing winning and competing at the highest levels of college basketball are birthrights of an IU fan. I still believe that. I also grew up believing that Indiana basketball was different: that how we won was as important as if we won; that success in the classroom, integrity on the recruiting trail, character off the court, and sportsmanship on it, were part of the fabric, along with winning, that made Indiana special.
But then Indiana basketball lost its way.
The patriarch of the program was dismissed ignominiously. Postseason wins and Big Ten championships became increasingly infrequent. We hired a known cheater. Some fans (me included, at times) rationalized the hire and other things that went because they might satisfy our insatiable desire to win again. Discipline in the classroom, character off the court, sportsmanship, and certainly integrity all suffered.
It all led to a bottoming out in the 2008-09 season. Indiana, one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball, won six games.
But we now know that while that season may have been the nominal “bottoming out” in terms of record and result, it was really more of a cleansing, a rebirth, that set the stage for Indiana basketball to be redeemed, which it finally was this season.
As sweet as every one of the 27 wins were this season, what truly recaptured the hearts of IU fans was not just that the team was winning, but how it was winning. Don’t get me wrong, the wins were the catalyst and the carried the momentum of this 2011-12 program rejuvenation. Without the on-court success, this season becomes just another footnote in Indiana’s storied hoops history; but the pillars of integrity and toughness and discipline and class and camaraderie and perseverance that served as the foundation for this season’s success are what set this team apart. It’s what made this group special. It’s why we can legitimately say that Indiana basketball is “back”…because it is.
We are winning, and we are winning the right way. And frankly, to me, the latter is more important than the former.
Other than for a few years there when I lost my way a bit as a fan, I’ve never felt that ends justified the means in college athletics. To the contrary, the means should justify the ends. Professional sports are Machiavellian, all about winning and the “bottom line”; college sports should not be.
I grew up believing that college sports were different and about something more: seeing young people come of age and mature; seeing a team play with pride for its school as it coalesces into a whole greater than the sum of its parts; being part of a fan base that found joy not just in winning but the process of winning. That may sound cheesy, but I know I’m not alone, especially in this fan base, which is I’m so proud to call myself a Hoosier.
It is precisely because this year’s team reaffirmed the potential reality of these idyllic thoughts that this team captured our hearts and gave us such a special experience. That is why Indiana basketball is back. And that is why this season should not become a mere footnote in this program’s history; it should be a landmark, a signpost, a monument to what this program was, is again, and always should be.
And in Bloomington, we commemorate such seasons with banners.
Combating The Counter Arguments
I have spent an inordinate amount of time considering this over the last 72 hours. That has given me plenty of opportunity to argue with myself about whether I truly agree with this idea of the 2011-12 team being honored with a banner. I’ve tried to counter the idea in every way I can think of, and probably some ways you are thinking of right now, so I’ll let you in on that internal dialogue.
Counter #1: Banners are for championships.
This is not accurate. The picture below, in addition to showing IU Athletics Director Fred Glass celebrating jubilantly after Indiana beat Kentucky, shows that there is a banner commemorating Indiana’s Final Four appearances.
I suppose you could argue that these Final Four teams were all regional “champions” in the NCAA Tournament, and you would be technically correct, but no one I know considers that a “championship”.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not denigrating the Final Four teams. Each one of those teams accomplished something very special that is worth commemorating. I just want to show that there is reasonable precedent to counter any hardline “banners must be for championships” argument.
As important as tradition is to Indiana basketball, finding historical precedent is extremely important.
Counter #2: Single seasons should not be set apart on their own banner unless they are National Championship seasons.
Again, there is precedent to counter this.
As you know, hanging opposite the banners pictured above are Indiana’s five majestic National Championship banners. And you can see that the 1975 teams, deservedly, received a banner for its undefeated regular season and for being named national champs by the UPI. Now look to the right of the 1975 banner. You’ll see “The Fan’s Banner” that Bob Knight hung in honor of the 1983 season. In case you don’t know or forgot the story:
Before 2000, the only Big Ten title banner honored the 1983 team, which Knight ordered as a tribute to the fans, who he credited with inspiring the team to win its final three home games, over Purdue, Illinois, and Ohio State, to seal the conference title after losing Ted Kitchel to injury. While IU survived the loss of Kitchel in the regular season, in the Tournament, his absence was felt, and IU lost to Kentucky despite strong performances by Randy Wittman and Uwe Blab.
Yes, Bob Knight was the first to call for a banner that honored a non-National Champion team. He did so because that season, despite not ending with a national title, was such a great example of what made Indiana basketball special; and in the case of 1983, it was the fans. Similarly, IU fans were credited with helping the Hoosiers win a number of home games this year, most notably the program-turning win over Kentucky.
But a banner for the 2011-12 season would not be hung for the fans like the 1983 one was. The way I see it, if the most legendary of legends in Indiana basketball history can choose to honor the fans with an individual season banner, why can’t the fans – many years later but still so similar in spirit and commitment to those 1983 fans, as was proven this year – bestow upon a particular team the same honor?
The fans in 1983 helped the team overcome adversity. During the 2011-12 season, the fans helped the players, sure; but even more so I think the players also helped the fans overcome the adversity of the last three years to rekindle the joy and pride in Indiana basketball again. That seems like at least an equal accomplishment to what occurred in 1983.
Counter #3: Wouldn’t this constitute a lowering of standards for Indiana?
I have, in fact, already seen this general argument made to me on Twitter. People have asked if I should really be so happy and so proud with a team that won “just” 27 games and finished “just” 5th in the Big Ten and that made it to “just” the Sweet 16.
First off, I thank all of of these folks for holding IU basketball in such high regard…as they should. But here again we come back to happiness versus satisfaction.
Satisfaction for Indiana University basketball is national championships. Plain and simple. When you’ve won five, and only three other programs have won as many or more, you are well within reason to set the bar that high. And until Banner #6 gets hung, coaches, players, fans, and everyone else associated with the program will be striving for it.
Yet the fact is that it’s been 25 years since Banner #5 was hung. While I firmly believe Banner #6 is on its way, I don’t know if it will be next year, the year after, five years from now, or at all in my lifetime. I just don’t. Neither does any IU fan. And what the last four seasons of die-hard IU basketball fandom has taught me is that while I’m fine measuring satisfaction in National Championship banners, I’m not going to measure happiness that way anymore. And that’s what the other end of Assembly Hall is for.
Big Ten Championships are worth commemorating. Final Four appearances are worth commemorating. Undefeated regular seasons and the respect of national writers is worth commemorating. Specific Big Ten titles spurred by the greatest fans in sports are worth commemorating. Heck, apparently even NIT and even preseason NIT championships are worth commemorating, at least based on the banner standards currently in place:
I’m fine with all of these banners*. National Championships are really hard to win. That’s why they are so special. And there are mile markers along the way to getting there, sub-championships that must be won on the way to earning the ultimate championship, which is what these banners signify.
Each of the banners hung opposite The Five represents a significant basketball achievement on the way to a previous National Championship or to the next one, and each one brought fans of Indiana basketball particular happiness and a great experience even if that specific season didn’t ultimately satisfy the ultimate annual goal of the program.
* – Quick aside: Does anyone really think either preseason NIT championship was more significant than what this year’s team did? Answer for yourself. I ask just to show that when you look at the banners currently hung on that end of Assembly Hall, hanging one for this year’s team certainly would not dishonor the achievements honored there.
So no, I do not think that honoring this year’s team with a banner in any way constitutes a lowering of standards. Quite the contrary, I think it shows just high Indiana fans’ standards are for its program that even though ultimate success is defined by championships, a team that “only” won 27 games and made the Sweet 16 could be banner worthy because the way in which the success was achieved, and the context, is so important. That is why Indiana basketball is special after all, right?
Counter #4: Couldn’t such an honor make the team complacent?
I’ll refer you back to Will Sheehey’s comments above, which are a microcosm of how this entire team and its coach seem to feel. They weren’t satisfied just making the Sweet 16 and they aren’t satisfied with this season overall. The only piece of laundry that could change that would have to be hung on the opposite side of the arena.
And something tells me that even then the team, and Crean especially, would already be thinking about #7.
Counter #5: Tom Crean doesn’t have the stature yet to be hanging banners like Bob Knight did.
You’re absolutely right, but nowhere in this article have I said that the banner should come from Crean. It shouldn’t.
Which leads me into my final point:
This Banner Is Not For The Fans, It’s From The Fans
For some reason, a previous leader in the IU athletic department decided to take down “The Fans’ Banner” that Knight had hung after the 1983 season. I don’t remember the reasoning for why this happened, but it’s not particularly important.
What is important is that not long after he became Indiana’s coach, Tom Crean asked AD Fred Glass if “The Fans’ Banner” could be rehung. It was, with Crean saying to the fans on the day their banner made its triumphant return to Assembly Hall, “Now help us get another one.” Crean obviously was referring to a sixth banner on the other end of Assembly Hall, but that certainly does not preclude a different banner going up in the meantime.
And when you consider Crean’s respect for Indiana’s traditions, and certainly his respect for the fans, they are just two more pieces to the puzzle of why this particular Indiana season was such a special one for all involved.
So I ask this:
If Bob Knight could honor the importance of the fans by hanging a banner in our honor, and if our current coach could reaffirm that by rehanging the banner after it was inexplicably taken down, why can we not come together to hang a banner in a team’s honor?
This banner would not be hung based on previously set criteria, and it would not be hung at the behest of the coach. It would be hung because we, as fans of Indiana basketball, were so proud of the four-year journey that culminated with this special season.
What this entire program just went through should not end up as a footnote in IU basketball history. You can say it won’t, and certainly it will stay fresh in our minds for a while, but times change and memories fade.
You know what the teams did in 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, and 1987. In once glance to the north end of Assembly Hall you can easily remember that the 2002 team was a Big Ten champion and Final Four participant, that the 1975 team was damn near as good as the 1976 team, and so on. But what about 1994? Or 1998? Or 1989? Or any other random year you could choose out of thin air that isn’t in some way commemorated on a banner? Yes, these seasons all have their own stories and characters and memories, but they are paragraphs or maybe pages in the story of Indiana basketball (except for the 1985 season of course, which famously has its own book). This season deserves more than that.
I’ve loved Indiana basketball more than any other sports team since I started going to games with my dad (and could remember them) in 1988. I’ve studied the history of the program, and I know it fairly well, even if I don’t have actual memories of any of the championship seasons. If I’m writing the book of Indiana basketball, this season alone gets not just a paragraph or page; it gets its own chapter, with a lengthy discussion at the start of the chapter about the last three seasons as well…because context really is everything. And the context of this season is about a program that lost its way then found it again, and the incredible ride the young men and their coach gave the program’s loyal and starving fans along the way.
Forgetting what made Indiana basketball special is part of what led to all of this mess in the first place. A banner for the 2011-12 season would not only honor the incredible accomplishments of the 2011-12 team, as well as tacitly thank every player who contributed over the three seasons prior, but it would serve as a virtual “Never Forget” sign – a perpetual reminder of what happens when a proud and successful program loses its way…and how hard it is to get back. This year’s team was able to do just that, both on and off the court, with toughness and class, with pride and humility, and through both individual growth and an evolving togetherness.
This year’s group of Indiana Hoosiers may not have a won a championship, but they won a lot of really big games in memorable ways, they won both our hearts and minds as fans, and most importantly they reclaimed the soul of Indiana basketball in the most redemptive season this program has ever experienced.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s more than worthy of a banner.
I would sincerely love your thoughts on this topic, whether you agree with me or disagree with me. The comment section awaits.
And even though I say “we” a lot, and it might sound like I’m trying to speak on behalf of Indiana fans here, that is not my intention. I’m merely giving my thoughts on this topic, which I haven’t seen introduced elsewhere, and providing a place to discuss it. If enough people agree and think it’s an idea that has merit, then perhaps we can try to start our own little “movement” and take the idea to AD Glass or others who could actually do something about it.
If nothing else, this post gave me one more opportunity to relive this awesome season. So even if no one comments or no one agrees, I’ll definitely be happy I took the time to write it…even if I won’t be fully satisfied.
But as pointed out above, that’s quite alright with me.
Update: As a commenter pointed out below, this idea was also raised this morning on the Herald Times website, but the majority of the comments apparently oppose the idea. I don’t have an online subscription so I can’t confirm.
Update: I want to add one more point, which is really at the heart of why I believe it needs to be a banner:
I know from experience that banners start conversation at Assembly Hall. They start conversations between parents and kids, between freshmen and seniors, between visitors and season-ticket holders. And these are the conversations when traditions, ideals, and histories are passed from one generation of fans to the next.
One side of Assembly Hall will always be reserved for National Championship banners. That will never change. To me, the other end of Assembly Hall should be reserved for the non-NCAA Championship seasons that have the most lasting impact on Indiana basketball. Those seasons usually involve Big Ten titles or Final Fours, but not always.
In 10-15 years, when we’ve perhaps won 5-6 more Big Ten titles, made a few Final Fours, and possibly hung another National Championship banner, will people still talk about this season? I know I will. I think most people who experienced it will. I hope so. But even the most memorable seasons sometimes fade without a constant reminder of their importance. A banner keeps this season’s story, and the story of the last four years, alive forever…which I think they deserve.