BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 19: Will Sheehey #10 of the Indiana Hoosiers dribbles the ball during the game against the Howard Bison at Assembly Hall on December 19, 2011 in Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana won 107-50. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I know I am a couple of days late on this, but Twitter has been all a-twitter for the last couple of days with discussion of whether there is some way that the 2011-12 Indiana Hoosiers should be honored in Assembly Hall in a permanent way, with most of the conversation focusing on whether this team deserves "a banner." Much of the discussion apparently arises from this prolific post by Jerod Morris. Whie Jerod anticipates and addresses nearly every possible argument, I still feel compelled to weigh in.
First, let's consider the banners that are hanging in Assembly Hall. Everyone knows the south end, of course, which is pictured above. Five NCAA championship banners. The north end is lesser known and has been in a bit of flux over the years. When I started at IU in 1992 there were, if memory serves (the north end is the stepchild, and it is tough to find pictures), four banners there: one honoring the 1973 Final Four team ("NCAA Finalist" was what it said); one honoring the 1975 team for going undefeated and finishing the season ranked number one; one honoring the 1979 NIT champions; and finally, the 1983 Big Ten champions banner. The story of this banner, which in the Knight era was the only banner that didn't recognize a national accomplishment, is pretty well-known among IU fans. IU lost Ted Kitchel to a season-ending injury, but gutted out a Big Ten title by winning three straight home games to finish the season. During senior night festivities, Bob Knight promised to raise a banner ostensibly honoring the team's Big Ten title, but for the purpose of honoring the fans and the role that they played in helping the team with the conference. Following the 1993 season, the banner honoring the 1992 Final Four team was raised, as was a banner honoring the 1993 team for winning the preseason NIT and finishing the regular season ranked #1.
Fast forward to 2002. Bob Knight's final seven teams were devoid of banner-level accomplishments, and Knight was fired in September 2000 and replaced by Mike Davis, first as an interim coach and then with a long-term contract. In 2001, IU hired a very strange man, Michael McNeely, to serve as athletic director. Events of the winter and spring of 2002 led to some significant changes in the north end of Assembly Hall. First, after years of disparate colors and logos, McNeely announced that following a detailed review, all IU sports would be using a uniform shade of crimson and a common logo. This meant that IU's bright red basketball uniforms would be darkened a few shades, of course. Second, the basketball teams actually won something. Of course, everyone remembers that the 2002 Hoosiers won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time in nine years and then went on an amazing run to the Final Four. I said "teams" because the women's basketball team made an improbable run to the Big Ten Tournament title as well. This combination of factors led to a reshuffling of the banners on the north end. The tribute to the 1975 team remained. Two banners were added listing IU's 20 Big Ten championships. The 1973 and 1992 banners were gone, consolidated onto a banner listing all eight of IU's Final Four appearances. IU's NIT championship and two preseason NIT championships were consolidated onto one banner (the 1996-97 team had not previously been honored). Finally, a banner listing IU's one women's basketball Big Ten title and the aforementioned Big Ten Tournament title was added. Most controversially, the 1983 banner was mothballed, because McNeely and Mike Davis were either ignorant of or indifferent to its meaning. That banner has since been restored by Fred Glass, and it stands out because it is longer than the other banners and is a lighter shade of red.
I can't possibly engage all of Jerod's well-stated arguments, but my position comes down to this: the standard for being banner-worthy should be objective and should be high. For many years, only a national-level accomplishment was considered worthy, with the exception of the 1983 Big Ten championship banner. Later, the IU added two banners listing the years of IU's many Big Ten titles. I supported and still support that decision, because those conference titles are an important part of IU's history. Unquestionably, the diciest "banner-worthy" accomplishment is the "preseason NIT champions" category at the bottom of the NIT banner. As I mentioned above, I think that category emerged because Knight really wanted to find a way to hang a banner for the excellent 1993 team, which ended the season ranked number one but lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight after Alan Henderson's knee injury. Still, I think the preseason NIT category is best viewed as a quirk of history, and not an invitation for lowering the floor.
That brings me to the 2011-12 Hoosiers. I don't think that anything short of another NCAA title will match the joy that this season brought to IU fans. After three straight 20-loss seasons, IU rebounded not with a mere NCAA bid, but with a season full of unforgettable moments: the Kentucky win, the Ohio State win, the sweep of Purdue, the whipping of Michigan State, the comeback against VCU, the deepest tournament run in a decade. IU did all this with a very likeable bunch of players, most of whom had been down a very rough road with prior IU teams. All that said, what attracted these players and Tom Crean to IU were the high standards. These players are and should be very proud of the progress that they made, but they know as well as we did that they didn't win a championship of any sort: no Big Ten title, no Big Ten Tournament title, no regional title, no NCAA title. On some level, I think it would be almost insulting to these guys to hang a banner for anything less than that. Finally, and most importantly, those who believe that IU needs to hang a banner are underestimating the memory and tradition-mindedness of the IU fan base. A couple of weeks ago, I was in my car listening to a long-form interview of Brian Evans by Mark Monteith on 1070 in Indianapolis. Evans was talking about the team's struggles during his senior year, and said something like, "there were some guys in the team photo that year that even a lot of diehard IU fans wouldn't recognize." Before he finished the thought, I said out loud: "Lou Moore. Chris Rowles." If I can remember Lou Moore and Chris Rowles over 15 years after their short and undistinguished IU careers, I'm not going to forget what these guys contributed to IU basketball, and neither is anyone who watched them. This team's spot in IU history is secure, and the justifiable absence of a banner in Assmbly Hall isn't going to change that.