At first it seems out of place and shallow. One of the most storied programs in college basketball history is telling recruits they’ll help make them celebrities. From the school that refused to put names on jerseys and applauded Bobby Knight chewing your ass down for any selfish antics, comes a campaign to tell high school kids it’s all about “their brand,” not Indiana’s.
Maybe that’s because Hoosiers hoops has lost its brand, evaporating into the Bloomington night with Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson, Tom Crean and Archie Miller’s ineffectiveness. Maybe that’s because Mike Woodson brings little cache to a teenager who looks at the ’70s as an era his grandparents grew up in. Maybe that’s because the natives are understandably restless and desperate times call for desperate measures. “Have you seen our Twitter followers?” beats, “Have you seen us in the NIT lately?”
Perhaps we should also give IU credit for seeing the writing on the wall. Roy Williams walked away last week, some believe paving the way for Jim Boeheim and Coach K to retire next. The rate of change in college basketball is blinding. Transfer portals are stuffed, players won’t have to sit out a year on their first move, and NIL rules will make things more complicated than ever.
Indiana tweeted a series of graphics from their official basketball account Friday, and they all focused on the player’s personal celebrity. It promoted its use of Opendorse, an athlete social media marketing platform. It promoted IU’s more than 1 million Twitter followers. It promoted its “NIL Working Group,” focusing on Name, Image, Likeness. And most glaringly, it literally said the business and media schools “will help build your brand.”
Has there even been a more transparent attempt to tap into high schoolers’ need for attention? Yet, it’s also a reality. You’ve got to convince teenagers to choose your school, and at the moment there’s no winning to sell at IU. College hoops is about talent acquisition by any means necessary. If a coach tells this to a recruit in his living room, is it any different than blaring it on social media?
At the same time this seems to create an even bigger problem. Massive roster turnover and never-ending player unhappiness is all about placating the individual’s momentary emotional state. “You want to feel important, popular, and loved? You want to become famous? Forget about your teammates or coach. We can do that!” Do you want to attract a team of players only focused on their own popularity?
Jim Boeheim would likely prefer hosting a 3-hour Q&A with local media than allow his program to openly promote players’ celebrity. Could you imagine SU tweeting to Brandon Huntley-Hatfield to choose the Orange because they’d help “build his brand?” But SU also has stability and recent success to sell. Indiana doesn’t. It’s strange to see a blueblood fishing for recruits with everything it formerly stood against, but it’s also probably where the sport is headed.