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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Indiana’s Tom Crean signs basketballs for Ally Dove, middle, and Carmen Danhauser on Wednesday at Ceruti’s.

Hoosiers carefully pick opponents

Non-conference games mean a lot

Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Robert Howard, left, gets an autograph from Indiana’s Kevin Wilson during Wednesday’s IU Athletics Tailgate Tour stop at Ceruti’s.

– Indiana signed on for two more years of the Crossroads Classic this week. It’s a move, coach Tom Crean said, that changes some non-conference scheduling.

“We’re going to play a neutral game in Indianapolis. If that’s going to be locked in every year like it is now for the next three years, you’ve got to factor that in,” Crean said Wednesday.

Crean, football coach Kevin Wilson, women’s basketball coach Curt Miller and men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley were in Fort Wayne as part of the IU Athletics Tailgate Tour. Each provided updates on their programs to a standing-room crowd of more than 400 people at Ceruti’s. They also discussed their non-conference scheduling philosophies.

“We want to do exempt tournaments,” Crean said. “We need to play numerous home games. We need to play home games because frankly it makes a lot of money for the athletic department, and we want to play games in front of our fans.”

The basketball schedule became a hot topic this spring when IU’s series with Kentucky came to an end. Kentucky announced a series with Baylor on Wednesday. Indiana’s known non-conference foes include North Carolina, Butler and possibly UCLA and Georgetown in an event in Brooklyn.

“You never want to lose sight that you’ve got to get yourself enough challenges to prepare yourself for (the Big Ten),” Crean said. “When you have a league like ours, which is No. 1 in the country, you don’t want to overschedule. You don’t want to schedule yourself out of situations. You want to make sure you are tested, you want to make sure you are ready, you want to make sure you play really good teams, but at the same time, you want to go into conference knowing you have a chance to move forward inside of it and beyond.”

For IU’s football team, the thought of bringing in an opponent to boost attendance isn’t a quick fix.

“You can say on paper, ‘Bring exciting opponents and our fans will come,’ ” Wilson said. “You’ve got to play well, and your fans will come. If we win games and play well, they’ll be there.

“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t say, ‘We’ll play anybody, anywhere.’ We’ve got to get our program in place to show we are going to be competitive and win some games. Maybe in time you get a little more greedy down the road.”

Miller, who is in his first year as the women’s basketball coach, said it’s important to have a schedule that builds confidence but that’s also competitive enough for the rigors of the Big Ten.

The soccer team is a perennial power with a schedule to match. Yeagley said the challenges begin with the annual exhibition in Fort Wayne.

“Nothing starts that off better than coming here and playing in the showcase,” he said. “The Shindigz National Soccer Festival has grown and grown.”