Two positive signs regarding the IPFW men's basketball program occurred Thursday.
The first took place at a news conference at the Gates Sports Center, as head coach Tony Jasick received a two-year extension to his original five-year deal and will remain under contract through the 2017-18 season.
“Under (Jasick's) leadership,” Mastodon interim Athletic Director Kelly Hartley Hutton said, “(the program) has improved both on the court and in the classroom. The university is extremely excited about the direction of the program under his leadership.”
As it should be.
Jasick led the Mastodons to 16 victories a year ago, which was the second-highest total in two decades, and IPFW was playing its absolute best basketball when it should, at the end of the season.
The Mastodons closed the 2012-13 season with a six-game win streak (the longest in program history in two decades) and beat Summit League-power Oakland three consecutive times during that stretch.
“(Our players) have clearly raised the bar within our program,” Jasick said. “Expectations are as high as they have ever been both on the floor and in the classroom. I think that is a direct reflection of (our players') character and hard work.”
In addition to the progress on the court, Hartley Hutton and Jasick both spoke proudly of the work being done academically by the IPFW student-athletes.
Only one senior has failed to graduate during Jasick's nine seasons with the program (seven as an assistant, two as head coach), and that former player continues in his quest for his degree. Also, the program has registered consecutive perfect scores in its Academic Progress Report measured by the NCAA under Jasick's direction.
The other positive moment took place later in the afternoon when a Twitter-based storm of opinions regarding the composition of the Mastodons' roster erupted.
The tweets were passionate both in criticism and support of the IPFW program. The point is that at least the opinions were passionate, which indicates that this program can generate interest among basketball fans.
What Jasick has managed to do over his time in Fort Wayne is figure out how to be competitive with this program.
IPFW has managed a winning record (3-2) against Mid-American Conference and Horizon League teams under Jasick while competing on an entirely unbalanced playing field – or court – if you will.
Jasick and his program must compete on the court and in recruiting against other comparable programs, yet the school's commitment to the program in terms of budget and facilities pales in comparison to those other schools.
For example, Ball State and IPFW are both state-supported universities with comparable enrollments, yet when the Cardinals needed a new coach, their leadership hired James Whitford at a salary of $275,000, which is nearly $200,000 more than what Jasick is paid. To further emphasize that point, Ball State pays its top assistant coach more than what Jasick receives.
Earlier this fall, Wayne High School senior guard Justin Mitchell elected to commit to Wright State over the Mastodons, partly because of the enormous financial commitment that the Raiders have made to their basketball program.
Other issues the program needs to resolve include the playing of games at the Gates Sports Center, which is a nice facility for non-revenue sports but not for a legitimate Division I men's basketball program, as well as the scheduling of NAIA and NCAA Division III programs, which only furthers the perception by some that this program is less than what it truly could and should be.
The Mastodon basketball program isn't where it needs to be from a university commitment standpoint. That needs to improve exponentially, which would transform the entire university (ask Butler what taking men's basketball seriously can do for an institution). But showing its support of Jasick on Thursday was a step in the right direction for a coach and his program that are trending upward.
That can't be disputed even on Twitter.