Bloomington – Truth be told, there usually isn't a whole lot to be gleaned from IU Football Media Day.
Generally falling about two weeks into fall camp, the annual event usually provides an opportunity for those who aren't frequent visitors to IU football practice (or those who don't pay very good attention) a chance to ask the same questions of Coach Bill Lynch that he's already fielded countless times before.
Tuesday was no exception, as Lynch fielded inquires about the value of the Memorial Stadium renovation project to recruiting (umm…I think it might come in handy?!), the importance of recruiting successfully in the state of Indiana and the need for good offensive line play, among others.
Despite that fact, there was more to Tuesday's event than in past years. The reason? Attendees were offered a glimpse into what fans will see and what they can expect at home games this season.
What they'll see is a football stadium that is finally on par with its Big Ten counterparts. While the centerpiece "Hall of Champions" room has yet to be completed and a few of the water fountains still might not be operational, the football staff and athletic administration have moved into their new digs and everything appears on pace to be completed by the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Kentucky.
From the field level, fans will get a glimpse of a weight room that is five times as big as the previous weight facility, measuring some 25,000 feet. They'll also be able to see the coaches' offices, which are located along the northwest corner of the stadium addition and overlook Memorial Stadium.
What they won't be able to see are a slew of other additions that should allow IU to put a better product on the field. The renovation has produced vast improvements in the position meeting rooms, which can now accommodate as many as 30 players. There's also an overall set-up that allows players to move with much greater ease from the locker room to the weight room to the practice fields to the academic resource center.
There's a lot for players, fans and coaches to like about the renovation, but it's the statement that it makes that pleases Lynch the most.
"It shows a commitment to football here in Indiana," Lynch said. "That's so important. That's something that quite honestly has probably been lacking, certainly from a facility standpoint, in the past. I think as our fans come and watch a game here and the gameday experience, they're going to realize football is important at Indiana."
But that won't be the only difference fans can expect when they come to a game this fall. Following Lynch's press conference, IU Athletics Director Fred Glass held a press conference of his own to unveil a variety of enhancements to gamedays in Bloomington.
The most notable is "Knothole Park," which will be located behind the south end zone. Knothole Park will be an area for children to play football on a replica football field, complete with stadium field turf. The road leading down to Knothole Park, meanwhile, will be chalked be various IU student groups.
"What we're trying to do is think Little 5," Glass said, referring to the annual bike race that draws a huge student crowd to Bill Armstrong Stadium. "Think fun. This is all about college, about fun, it's about having a good time, and we want the pageantry and the excitement and the spontaneity that I think makes us all wish to one extent or another that we were back in college."
That's just one of many initiatives that Glass unveiled Tuesday. IU will also be launching a "Kicks for Keeps" promotion, where there won't be a net behind the goalposts when kickers from both teams are lining up for a field goal or extra point. The idea is for IU fans to be able to keep the ball when IU's kicker converts an attempt, and to throw the ball back onto the field when an opponent is successful, ala Chicago Cubs fans in Wrigley Field when an opposing player hits a home run.
Glass does realize, though, that he'll have to tinker with the idea since placekickers aren't about to give up their balls so easily.
"We may have to trade them out because the kickers rub the ball and sleep with them under the pillow, put them in the microwave, do all kinds of stuff that I don't really understand," Glass said. "But they will get a real, IU embossed, regulation football."
The new ideas don't end there. IU students will get an IU gameday t-shirt, which Glass hopes they'll wear to each football game this year. Football games will also feature a new "Red Light Special," where a light will illuminate at various times during the game signifying a special offer, varying from a discount on concessions to a giveaway to a limited number of fans.
Glass is even emphasizing with the stadium ushers that their purpose on gamedays is to do everything they can to enhance fans' experiences as opposed to cracking down on those in attendance.
"They're going to wear gigantic buttons that say, ‘Ask me how I can make you have a great experience,'" Glass said. "Safety is an issue and we've got to make sure everyone is having a safe time, but we don't have to try to catch people violating some obscure regulation.
"We're about hospitality and making sure people have fun at the games."
It's a new look for the stadium and a new approach from the administration, all in an effort to help attract more fans to the stadium and produce some new results for a football program that is looking to bounce back from last year's 3-9 mark. Time will tell if IU will field a better product on the field, but there's an excitement around the program that Lynch likes.
"It's really been a big boost," Lynch said. "We have a different bounce in our step around here."
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