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IPFW can't limit its aspirations

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

Mastodons need to keep home games at Coliseum

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 6:09 pm

Editor's note: This column was published in The News-Sentinel on Jan. 27, 2012.

History is filled with fascinating stories about the shortsightedness of people who overlooked what later became obvious to many.

Hewlett-Packard turned down an $800 machine created by Steve Wozniak in 1976. Who would want a computer in their house?

Henry Ford irrationally doubled the pay of his auto workers in 1914 to $5 per day. Perhaps, Ford pondered, it might be a good idea if those workers could then go out and purchase one of his Model Ts.

In the case of IPFW men's basketball, that same shortsightedness could be applied to the Mastodons' playing venue. Following IPFW's 75-66 thrilling Summit League victory over North Dakota State on Thursday at the Gates Sports Center, much of the questioning at the post-game news conference centered on whether the Mastodons (10-10, 4-7 Summit League) should play all of their games at the on-campus venue rather than Memorial Coliseum.

"That decision is over my pay grade," IPFW coach Tony Jasick responded when asked whether he'd like to play on campus regularly.

Thursday's announced crowd of 1,149 fans certainly created a louder environment in the cozy Gates Center than the same number at the cavernous coliseum, and Jasick acknowledged that.

"I thought the crowd impacted the game," Jasick said. "I will say this: As an athletic department and as a university, we are in the process of looking at all options. There is so much that goes into making a decision like the ones that you are all hinting about and moving back (to Gates); there are so many aspects to that decision that have to be thoroughly - and I mean thoroughly - researched before you just make a knee-jerk reaction."

Save the data gathering.

It's simple. If IPFW wants to remain a lower-level Division I men's basketball program (its current RPI is 255), by all means, move its home games back to the Gates Center. But if it aspires to be relevant in the college basketball world (for example, Oral Roberts' RPI is 45), then it is imperative that the Mastodons play their home games at the Coliseum.

The IPFW administration has done a magnificent job of sprucing up the Gates Sports Center over the past year. It is really a nice venue - to host events such as volleyball or women's basketball. It is not an adequate Division I men's basketball facility. Heck, it would only be an OK high school basketball facility.

I have a great appreciation for the atmosphere at Thursday's game, and I don't debate one iota that it was far better than any of the Mastodons' games at the Coliseum. For now.

But this issue isn't about what is best in 2012. The need for Jasick's squad to play at the coliseum is about where this program wants to go. Where Jasick and IPFW Athletic Director Tommy Bell want the program to ascend to. And that is to the top of the mid-major college basketball food chain.

There will come a day when 4,000 people file into the Coliseum on a regular basis for IPFW games. There will come a day when the Mastodons play in the NCAA Tournament. There will come a day when Jasick and his team win conference championships (be it in the Summit League or whatever league the future holds for this program). There will come a day when the Mastodons win a game against a team from a BCS conference. Those around the program have to believe that, and I believe, regardless of the politically correct speech delivered during a news conference, they do.

I have no doubt that the leadership of IPFW, its athletic department and its basketball program will not sell itself short by limiting what it can envision and focusing on short-term glory.

Basketball programs such as Gonzaga, Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason didn't get to the point that they have reached by being conservative about aspirations, and neither will Bell or Jasick.

In life, you will be perceived exactly how you carry yourself. If you want to be great, you have to carry yourself that way. Some call it arrogance, others call it confidence.

The same applies to this basketball program. The Mastodons will be perceived exactly how the program carries itself, and that perception will be dramatically affected by the venue that the team calls home.

Bell and Jasick don't wake up each day asking themselves "What can I do to be adequate today?" They both want to be great, and they understand that means playing in a great facility, not an adequate one.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at tdavis@news-sentinel.com.