Thank God Justin Albers does not speak for all of Hoosier Nation.
For those that missed it, the publisher of Indiana's Scout.com site went on a twitter diatribe Sunday afternoon after Indiana fans booed Greensburg-native Bryant McIntosh in his return to the home-state school for which he wanted to play growing up. Few would defend McIntosh's rude welcoming as positive. Booing borderline teenagers that actively chose to see a different part of the world in their college years is always uncomfortable and bad, just as it was when Sean May left his hometown for Chapel Hill in 2002. Yet, McIntosh didn't "betray" Indiana as May did, he wasn't even wanted by Tom Crean's staff. Since that time, he's arguably become Northwestern's best player and given Wildcat fans some semblance of hope.
In an ideal world, McIntosh would receive a warm welcome home for Indiana's recruiting swing-and-miss.
But that didn't happen.
And it has absolutely nothing to do with Indiana University's out-of-state students.
In 2008, a bewildered kid from Maryland stepped on IU’s Bloomington campus and decided that place would be home for the next four years. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have any family in -- or connection to -- Indiana. The most I knew of this state was the Indianapolis airport, the 50-mile drive from the airport to Bloomington and IU’s campus.
At the start of IU-Bloomington’s 2015 fall semester, 7,875 new freshmen made up the ceremonial clusterfuck that is move-in day. Of those 7,875, 57 percent were Indiana residents (about 4,488) with 34 percent from other states (about 2,677) and another nine percent from outside the U.S. (about 708). Keep in mind that’s just the freshman class. That’s a ton of bewildered teenagers. That’s a ton of people to try and generalize.
I know the stigmas that come along with being an out-of-stater at Indiana; they’re rich (tuition for the current school year is $33,740, about $23K more than in-state), they’re pretentious, not salt-of-the-earth folks (who gets a BMW when they’re 20?), they’re loud and obnoxious, rude and "don’t understand the state and the history."
Albers is right. Prior to freshman year, I didn’t know Branch McCracken from Jimmy Crack Corn. And let’s get to the heart of the matter. He’s talking about those students at the games who are tapping away at their phones instead of paying attention. The students who know designer name brands better than names of IU players (why cant’ they put the names on the back of the jerseys? I can hear them saying). The students who are taking seats away from real Hoosiers who would appreciate them better. The students who buy artificial fandom at $33,740 a year.
But here's the thing about all these preconceptions out-of-staters hold against in-state students and vice-versa, (some, not all) quickly disappear when you actually get to know one another.
One of my roommates freshman year was a high school wrestling standout from Michigan who knew how to dip and hunt (0-for-2 for me) and the other was from South Korea. Our entire floor on the 13th story of Eigenmann was a microcosm of what was going on around campus; this melting pot of kids from The Region, Indy suburbs, Fort Wayne, smaller towns in Indiana like New Palestine (I was the first Jewish person they met), Chicago suburbs, the New York/New Jersey area, Los Angeles suburbs, international students, etc. We were all smushed together in this crazy social experiment known as freshman year. Sure as semesters pass, I think some of these groups tend to gravitate toward folks from their same area, but for that one year we were all at the mercy of dorm randomization. And for that one year, it’s really a beautiful thing where you’re forced to learn, fight, befriend, socialize and co-exist with people whom you would never otherwise meet.
When I got the basketball columnist job at the Indiana Daily Student, one of my first fears was not being able to connect with a fan base that had this program running in its veins. What if they saw right through me? So you’re telling me that I’m supposed to be reading the opinion of some East Coaster who clearly doesn’t understand what Indiana basketball is? I took it one week at a time, with a good mix of triumphs and failures. Eventually I was getting reader emails and tweets from real Hoosiers who didn’t think I was completely full of shit (OK, some did). Alex Bozich and Dustin Dopirak knew my name. Holy crap, Chronic Hoosier DM’d me. This all might seem trivial, but I was being welcomed into a culture I never thought I would be able to be immersed in.
You know what we call that, Justin Albers? That’s Hoosier Hospitality. Take notes. It’s unconditionally welcoming somebody to the best damn university in the world and allowing them to take part in traditions that bring joy to so many.
It’s freshmen from New Castle and New York standing in the student section and both screaming their heads off in a way that eliminates otherwise noticeable accents. It’s a shared experience of clapping to William Tell Overture even though one gal has heard it her whole life and the other for the first time. It’s getting goosebumps when you watch a replay of the Wat Shot. It’s the reason the Sample Gates are always open. And it’s so many alumni who previously had no connection to Indiana before college, embracing the university and calling themselves a Hoosier with pride for life.
You’re always going to have students that don’t "get it" the way native Hoosiers do. And, surprise! you’re going to have some out-of-staters that care more about IU basketball than some in-state kids. This variance comes naturally with a student body of over 30K undergraduates.
If you're in the business of attacking out-of-state students, that argument comes with a massive logical flaw: fans that are leaving their own home-state school are ones far more likely to empathize with the Bryant McIntoshes and Josh McRoberts and Sean Mays of the world. They left home, too -- and they know that that's perfectly fine and okay.
The binding link for so many -- both the farmer with a hoop on his barn and the executive in Manhattan -- is a love for Indiana University and its basketball program.
So thank Damon Bailey that the IU family is made up of more people who understand Hoosier Hospitality, and can welcome in some scared kid from Maryland - and less people like Justin Albers.