The concept of the Crossroads Classic sounded good on paper.
A four-team invitational featuring the top-4 college basketball teams in a state known for its ravenous obsession with the sport? Neat! What a good storyline. Get the in-state programs some bragging rights over the others.
But really, in the end, that’s all it was. A good story that appealed to the state’s reputation for hoops.
We say all of this because new Notre Dame head coach Micah Shrewsberry expressed some interest in a similar event to showcase the Irish program. Well, thanks but no thanks.
The Crossroads Classic began thanks to former Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke. Getting Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler together in Indianapolis wasn’t a novel idea though, it’d happened before a few times back in the 1950s.
When Mike Bobinski was hired as Burke’s successor, he praised the event and said he hoped to see it renewed in the years to come, with the contract set to expire in 2021.
“Unless something changes dramatically in the college basketball world or circumstances for any of us, I personally think it’s something you’d want to continue,’’ Bobinski said in the Herald-Bulletin. “I don’t know why any of this wouldn’t be viewed as a positive occurrence. I think that all of us are going to continue to be really good programs. Bringing really good teams together is a great thing.
At the event’s inception, Butler was coached by wunderkind Brad Stevens, Mike Brey’s Notre Dame was regularly winning 20+ games per year, Purdue was doing the same but was about to enter a slump and Indiana was having a few good seasons before inconsistency resulted in the firing of Tom Crean.
Butler and Notre Dame were experiencing some of the best periods in program history. Indiana and Purdue were not. That is extremely not the case these days.
Now, in the year 2023, Butler is still trying to find its way in a resurgent Big East that is well on its way to being the best men’s basketball conference in the country. Notre Dame has moved on from Brey and replaced him with Shrewsberry, a former assistant at Butler and Purdue who was born in Indianapolis.
All four programs are led by coaches who were either born in the state and grew up watching its storied college teams or are Thad Matta. So, on paper, renewing the Crossroads Classic made sense for the sake of its storylines… right?
And Bobinski wasn’t shy about why it came to an end in an interview with Mike Carmin, then of the Lafayette Courier & Journal.
“ … A couple of the participants chose to opt-out and it’s no secret who those are — South Bend and Bloomington don’t want to continue the event. They have their reasons. I don’t necessarily agree with them but that’s their decisions,” Bobinski said.
There was no longer a point to it, there wasn’t much of one from the beginning either. Sure, it sounded like a neat little storyline event, but the cold reality is that it was all but useless for Indiana and an unnecessary event for that iteration of Notre Dame men’s basketball.
First, there was nothing to be gained from that audience that Indiana doesn’t accomplish on its own. Like it or not, the Hoosiers are the premiere men’s college basketball brand in the state, they already have all the in-state attention they could possibly get or want.
Indiana doesn’t need to actively repair or maintain its audience in the state, that’ll always be there. What Indiana does need to work on is restoring its national brand and justify all of its history.
Nationally, Indiana just isn’t the power it once was. The coaches themselves will say that, it’s a large part of why Mike Woodson wanted to take the job in the first place. Spending a weekend in Indianapolis playing against teams that only in-state fans and media care for was a tremendous waste of time for Indiana in a prime television slot.
It’s just better for the program to head out west to take on Arizona in Las Vegas or schedule heavy-hitter nonconference competition like Kansas. This upcoming season, Indiana is heading south to Atlanta for a game against Auburn and East to New York, Mike Woodson’s turf for multiple years, to take on national brands like UConn, Texas and Louisville in the Empire Classic.
The argument that Indiana is scared of in-state competition (which, what) falls apart when the Hoosiers schedule heavy hitter programs like Texas and recent champions like Kansas and UConn.
Those are nationally televised showcases of the program as Woodson looks to build it up that are relevant to audiences outside of the Hoosier state, the kind Indiana needs to capture to get where it wants to go.
On top of the branding question, the Crossroads Classic just didn’t make sense competitively. A win over Notre Dame or Butler isn’t quite what it used to be. As it stands now, both would be a bad loss for both Big Ten teams since both Indiana and Purdue should beat those two programs, as they are currently constructed, with ease.
It’s better for Indiana to continue scheduling games in Indianapolis, also Hoosiers territory thanks to the massive alumni base and fully functioning, brick-and-mortar satellite campus in town, but choose its opponent.
Fans will still turn out to watch Indiana take on Miami (OH) and Harvard.
Speaking of fan turnout… Indiana was the draw for the Crossroads Classic, again whether you like it or not. The event literally fell apart without the Hoosiers, even though Purdue resurrected a similar weekend event: the “Indy Classic” with the Boilermakers and Ball State playing out-of-state programs.
And even then, Indiana fans still showed up. Why? To watch Hoosiers alum Michael Lewis coach Ball State.
Without Indiana, the event just wasn’t viable. The Hoosiers’ platform leased space to the other three programs that they could make better use of for their own benefit.