DECKER: Spotlight Will Elude IU in Chicago

Indiana football is a program on the rise, but it's going to miss out on a rare opportunity for some national publicity at this month's Big Ten Kickoff event...

A golden opportunity has been missed by IU football.

The Big Ten released the list of players who will be attending the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon later this month, and IU Coach Bill Lynch will be accompanied by tailback Marcus Thigpen, defensive tackle Greg Brown and placekicker Austin Starr.

Those are three seniors who have done plenty during their IU careers, three integral pieces to the puzzle who are deserving of the attention and recognition that goes along with the preseason event in Chicago. But I'll contend that a couple of others would have been better choices to go to the Windy City.

Call me crazy, but I think Kellen Lewis and Greg Middleton should be joining Starr instead.

Why? Because the Big Ten Kickoff event is all about generating preseason publicity, and IU football could have been the topic of conversation and upstaged the traditional conference powers Michigan, Penn State and even Ohio State by bringing its two best players.

In years past, regional and national media have crowded around the tables of the players from the big name programs. Indiana's contingent of players have often been left by their lonesome, shunned by the national press corps and instead joined by the same local beat reporters who will be covering them throughout the season.

The story could have been different this year. Lewis is the most dynamic offensive player in the Big Ten, a likely preseason first-team All-Big Ten choice who totaled a Big Ten-best 37 touchdowns and shattered virtually all of IU's single-season passing marks. Middleton led the nation in sacks a year ago with 16, edging out players such as Virginia's Chris Long (14) and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston (14) who were both among the top six picks in this year's NFL Draft.

I know what you're thinking – it would be a strange message to send to your team if you took the quarterback who's been suspended for the last four months to the event. Lewis would undoubtedly be peppered with questions about the reasons for his suspension and what exactly the "benchmarks" were that the staff set for him.

To that I say…so what? Those questions are coming, whether it's at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago or the Memorial Stadium practice fields in August. So I say let the media relations department "coach him up" for what he's going to be asked and how he should answer. Lewis is well spoken and won't be tripped up and say something he shouldn't. Eventually the topic of conversation would return to football, his abilities, and the impact he'll have on an IU team that has a chance to do some special things this fall.

That's a good thing, and a good story for people outside of a two-hour radius from Bloomington to hear.

Big Ten Media Day shouldn't be simply viewed as a reward but rather an opportunity. It's a way to get some attention and to shine the spotlight on an IU program that is on the rise.

This month's trip to Chicago will be an opportunity missed.

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