By any name or form, the sports programs for the Division I university in Fort Wayne will be known as the Mastodons and wear blue. That’s the approach IPFW Athletic Director Kelley Hartley Hutton is taking in the wake of possible major changes to the 50-year-old institution.
"We are Fort Wayne’s team, and there are no indications that those things are changing any time soon," said Hartley Hutton, who is in her second year as the leader of the school’s athletic department.
After a proposal was released this month for changes to the university, which offers both Indiana University and Purdue University degrees, the future of the school and its sports programs has been pushed into a period of curiosity and uncertainty. Purdue currently provides administrative oversight of IPFW, but a proposal recommends Indiana would still control the School of Medicine, and Purdue would control all other programs and course offerings.
Indiana and Purdue universities have partnered at the school since it began in 1964. But it is too soon to tell how the business side of the university will affect athletics, if at all. IPFW has been an NCAA Division I institution since 2001.
"We have certainly put some thought into this but it is so early," said Hartley Hutton, who was the IPFW women’s volleyball coach for 15 years. "These recommendations just came out. Now the next step, the important step, is the due diligence work, and that will take some time. And rightfully so.
"Change is hard for people, but it is also exciting. And if in the end, if it results in serving the students better and serving the community and region more efficiently than we are compelled to look at it."
For Hartley Hutton, it is all about patience as committees and the state legislature take a look at the recommendations before IU and Purdue decide to make any significant splits or switches. Until told otherwise, it is business as usual for the Mastodons. Support is up, according to Hartley Hutton, in the form of a 40 percent gain in donors over the past three years and the success is there, with the men’s basketball team off to its best Division I start (16-6) in school history, as an example.
"It is early to start pushing buttons and live in the ‘what if, what if,’ " she said. "That is getting the cart so far ahead of the horse because they are just forming this oversight team, this transition-type team to look at it. It is unhealthy to get caught up worrying about all these unanswered questions until the due-diligence team sorts things out. There has to be a certain level of trust."
Hartley Hutton points out any significant changes shouldn’t affect current students or the number of majors offered. And she feels the university is still committed to Division I athletics and that support is vital moving forward.
There is also talk of the school essentially splitting into two and even going through a name change(s) to reflect a new identity.
"I won’t say there are some that don’t sound too appealing to me," Hartley Hutton said possible new names. "In athletics, we think of ourselves as Fort Wayne’s team. The Big Ten degrees offered here at Indiana and Purdue, we are grateful for them. They may leave with them, but while they are here, they are Mastodons and they wear blue – and we don’t see that changing."
Greg Jones is the assistant sports editor for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1998. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; phone, 461-8224; or fax, 461-8648.