I spent a lot of this season trying to figure out why I wasn’t as bothered as seemingly everyone else around me by what was transpiring on the field. My first concern was that the team had, at long last, finished me off. I was finally too awash in Hoosiers ennui to be retrieved.
But if I truly didn’t care— why did I keep on coming back?
There are infinite better ways to spend a Saturday than watching four hours of football that has no emotional impact on you. But I quickly realized it wasn’t a lack of caring in the program that kept me from panicking as the losses piled up, each more maddening than the last.
I don’t know when we reached the saturation point on Sisyphus comparisons to sport teams. It was probably 2012 at the absolute latest, because that’s when I first used it and when it comes to taking higher-minded ideas and applying them to sport, ya boy is often at the back of the line. But when you’re talking about Indiana football, it’s almost impossible to not think of that poor guy, forever rolling that boulder up a mountain, and probably wearing a Blake Powers jersey the whole time.
It was Albert Camus who famously wrote “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” This was his conclusion in an essay outlining the absurdity of human existence. The “Absurd” being the pursuit of true meaning in life despite it being humanly impossible to achieve. Impossible, of course, because death remains undefeated (though the CFP Committee has reservations about its strength of schedule). But if you become conscious of this condition, what’s the point of existing any longer? You’re left with two options to deal with it: either commit suicide, or believe, through faith alone and absent certainty, that some divine power awaits you at the end.
But Camus offers a third option: revolt. And he doesn’t mean overthrow the athletic department. Revolting against the inevitable takes on a different meaning, Camus explains:
That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.
I think we have our catchphrase for the 2018 season ticket advertisements.
Becoming aware of the Absurd also means becoming aware of its inevitability. Instead of wallowing in that which will never change, instead become masters of our own days and achieve freedom through content acceptance. When you’re aware of the extent of that which exists to torture you, you are then empowered to rise above the torture itself. If you can accept there is no alternative to this, you are then free to find joy in it.
So we see the Absurd for the inescapable reality that it is, we may as well pursue meaning in life (and in this case, football) undaunted. The answer to the realization of Indiana’s absurd condition is not the abandonment of Indiana football— it’s revolt. It’s our purpose to watch and support the Hoosiers as they helplessly look on at a booth review of a fumble that will assuredly be awarded to their opponent regardless of what the replay actually shows.
Another season is over, and another boulder rolls back down the mountain to its starting point. Camus was always the most interested in Sisyphus during his descent, a time in which he would reflect on another futile attempt in the short hour before commencing the next futile attempt in a series of infinite futile attempts. It is in that moment that he can become greater than his own fate.
If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy.
If life and Indiana football are nothing more than an absurd struggle, then you can find happiness in it regardless of what your struggle is, specifically. Keep pushing the boulder— there’s nothing better to do! Indiana has never had it very good on the gridirion, and the latest wave of conference realignment had them stuffed into a trash can with Maryland and Rutger while Ohio State, the Michigans, and Penn State sit on the lid. There is nothing particularly alluring about trying to force yourself out of a trash can, but once you’re inside of one you don’t really have a choice.
This is Indiana’s struggle. This is our struggle. If you don’t like the struggle, I can’t blame you, but you should understand that as long as you’re here, the struggle will be too. It was here long before you arrived in Bloomington, and it’ll be here long after you’re gone. It’s 4th and goal in overtime against Michigan over and over for the rest of forever. Grab a drink.
I kept coming back each week because I was finally at peace with Indiana’s lot in the college football landscape. The CHAOS TEAM had become the ABSURDISM TEAM and if we’re doomed to never reach the top, we may as well have enjoy the climb. This is the only way out that doesn’t involve the football fandom analog of suicide (giving up the fandom) or the football fandom analog of divine intervention (Nick Saban coming to Bloomington).
And when you only have one way out, that becomes the best way out by default. Enjoying Indiana football is easy as long as you accept you’re forced into it due to a philosophical technicality. Trying to justify it in any other sense is becoming increasingly more impossible.
Using @SBN_BillC 's 2nd order wins, Indiana has underachieved the most out of any FBS program over the past 10 seasons with a cumulative 8.2 less wins than expected. Next closest team (Utah State) at 6.7.— Punt John Punt (@PuntJohnPunt) November 28, 2017
Indiana football is our boulder. The Big Ten is our mountain. Together they are the whole of college football for us, the Absurd Indiana Fan, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because we now accept that we can’t have it any other way.