In case you didn’t notice, something special in the world of college baseball happened in Terre Haute the past two weekends. The Indiana State University Sycamore baseball team won the Missouri Valley Baseball Tournament to earn the automatic berth to the NCAA playoffs for the 12th time in ISU’s history.
With the nation’s top rated defense and being ranked in six Division 1 polls, while playing the fifth most difficult schedule in the nation, it was no surprise the Sycamore were selected to host the first round of the NCAA playoff. The selection committee ranked ISU as the 12th best team in the country. The other three teams in the regional were North Carolina, Iowa and Wright State
ISU went 3-0 and defeated Big Ten Champ Iowa twice to earn the championship and, as everyone familiar with the collegiate baseball playoff format understands, the Sycamores were going to be the host of the Super Regional, which is equivalent to basketball’s Sweet 16.
Because of NCAA selection committee seeding, ISU knew they would play the winner of the #2 seeded Arkansas regional. Texas Christian University upset Arkansas twice to advance to the next playoff level. Since TCU was not ranked in the top 16, ISU would be in line to host the Super Regional.
At Sunday evening’s press conference, ISU coach Mitch Hannahs said his team was excited about playing the Super Regional in Terre Haute in front of their fans which showed up in groves for two weekends in a row at Bob Warn Field.
To say Terre Haute was extremely supportive and proud of the home team is an understatement. The fans brought a fever pitch of excitement to each playoff game. Fans of all ages were dressed in ISU gear and shouted with joy for the home team not often seen in Terre Haute except when a guy named Larry Bird played in the Hulman Center.
On Monday, ISU administrators made an announcement that had Sycamore fans shaking their heads in disbelief. ISU had not entered a bid to the NCAA to host a Super Regional by the mandatory May 27 deadline. The result meant the Sycamores were now traveling to TCU for the Super Regional.
ISU officials said the 50th Indiana State Olympics were being played at ISU this weekend. The event, which includes 2,200 athletes and another 4,000 volunteers, is a large undertaking for the university. The officials went on to say they believed ISU would not have the resources, manpower or finances to host two major events this coming weekend. Rightfully so, ISU did not want to harm the Olympics in any way, especially on the 50th anniversary of the games being played in Terre Haute.
“If we cannot do a great job of hosting an event, then we believe we should not hold the event,” Curtis said.
In an interview with WTHI 10 from Terre Haute, ISU athletic director Sherman Clinkscales admitted the school had decided to not submit the application to the NCAA before the May 27 date. Which meant, even while the MVC tournament was going on, the decision to not host a Super Regional was made even though that information was never communicated to the team or fans.
Clinkscales is on video stating the “decision was made by ISU president Dr. Deborah Curtis”.
Monday evening Dr. Curtis was speaking in front of the Terre Haute City Council members, who were extremely disappointed in the decision made by the university. Curtis is on video saying the decision was made from information gathered from the athletic department.
Earlier in the day, when the word started to spread, Coach Hannahs told the media that the players and coaches found out the bad news Monday morning. He told his players “It is what it is and we have to focus on playing this weekend.” Coach Hannahs made the right comment, but the sound of his voice made one think he was not happy.
On Monday, when Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett heard the news, he said he immediately offered assistance to supply workers for the tournament. An announcement from the Vigo County Visitors Bureau Director, David Patterson, stated their organization could help with funding the event and that he could have helped find the NCAA requirement for housing. Both the mayor and Visitors Bureau directors questioned out loud why the university had not reached out to them three weeks ago to help find a solution.
“I am disappointed ISU did not reach out to the city to help find a solution to the problem,” Bennett said. “ISU put on two great tournaments the past two weeks and I believe we could have helped them pull off a third tournament.”
During Bennett’s time in office Terre Haute has worked to improve their image and have made great changes in entertainment venues, shopping and in the downtown. His staff invented the hashtag “terredise” as a form of re-branding. He saw the NCAA Super Regional as an opportunity to show off his city to a national audience.
Social media has taken the side of the fans and town officials. The way the problem was handled by the university staff is a point of discussion on Twitter and Facebook. Many fans are calling for the resignation of Dr. Curtis, who has been under fire for some time with other university issues including a drastic drop in enrollment since she took over the helm in 2017.
Indiana State proved to the country that they are capable of hosting important baseball tournaments. National sports writers gave the Terre Haute Regional extremely good passing grades. Iowa head coach, and former ISU coach, Rick Heller, complimented the Sycamore athletic staff and fans for a great tournament.
After two weekends of abiding by MVC, NCAA tournament rules and assisting the media including an ESPN crew, the blueprint was in hand to have another well-earned tournament which would include only one guest team.
Wednesday city officials organized a player send-off at the Terre Haute airport to give fans the opportunity to gather and show support for the team.
Personally I believe ISU made a good call to protect the Indiana Special Olympics. However, hiding the truth about hosting the Super Regional was an act that will destroy a lot of the goodwill between the city, fans and Sycamore alumni. I also believe university officials should have contacted the city three weeks ago when it was discovered there was a problem. The city has expressed several time they would have helped to come up with a solution that would allow the university to host two large events.
Indiana State will open Super Regional play at TCU at 5 p.m. Friday. The game will be televised on ESPNU. The Super Regional is a double elimination format meaning a team must win two-of-three games. ISU will have their hands full. ESPN analyst had predicted ISU as the favorite to advance to the College World Series. After the change in venue, TCU is now the favorite. Don’t count out ISU too quickly as they have the best won-loss record in the NCAA in road games.
I know where I will be Friday, right in front of my TV in Waynetown with my new ISU Baseball shirt on and hoping for the best for the Trees. Although, I would rather be watching the game at Bob Warn Field in #terredise.
Bob Cox is a North Montgomery and Indiana State alumn and a frequent writer for the Journal Review
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