Indiana University football adjusts to complex times

Tom Allen’s spring was scheduled differently.

It was basically spoken for before the world took a break and he was handed too much time to sniff the dandelions.

Coming off the 2019 season, the Indiana University football coach had the right to be as enthused as any college football team leader in America. There have been about as many coaching administrations in Bloomington as presidential administrations in Washington since the Hoosiers last won a Big Ten title in 1967.

Now, after three years of witnessing Allen’s acumen at the helm, Indiana fans aren’t clamoring for regime change. They are more apt to send Allen gifts of appreciation.

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Indiana finished 8-5 last season, two points in the Gator Bowl of Jan. 2 shy of nine victories. The last time IU won eight games in a season was 1993.

Players barely had time to shower between bowl practice and spring practice. The Hoosiers squeezed out four spring ball practices before universal timeout was called due to COVID-19, the coronavirus.

“Well, you know, first of all, it really kind of became a reality to me how critical those bowl practices really are now,” Allen said in a recent teleconference. “Those are huge.”

This seemed to be a program on a roll, and it makes sense for Allen to be bummed about fields being padlocked. The circumstances requiring worldwide social distancing are a common denominator, limiting routine movement, travel, bankrupting businesses, shutting schools and all other sports, too.

When people are dying by the thousands, no one is going to complain about the effect on football sharpness. All teams are sidelined, players hibernating in their homes, coaches left alone to think of fresh playbook content instead of supervision in the flesh.

Prior to Allen’s teleconference, he conducted a virtual team meeting. The spreading state-by-state rules of noncontact prevented his men from being in the campus weight room or visiting local gyms. The only option is to work out on their own, if barbells are available on their premises.

The squad meeting, from Allen’s description, also was about maintaining mental toughness in the most physical of games. Allen’s message was that whatever unforeseen developments impede forward progress, “We don’t blink.” No spring ball, no live classes, no workouts with new strength coach Aaron Wellman, no hanging together in fitness centers, “We don’t blink.”

A deadly pandemic sweeping across the world is an unprecedented obstacle for a sports team, for everyday citizens who would like to drop in at a favorite restaurant for a celebratory dinner or who would like to go new-car shopping but are told it is safer to sit in front of the TV in the living room.

At least the Hoosiers completed their season, unlike the NBA and the NHL, which may not get that chance even later this spring or summer, or Major League Baseball, which got only so far in spring training and could not unlock the bleachers for a regular-season game.

The running joke among the most passionate of college football followers is the belief there are just three sports seasons: The games of autumn, recruiting and spring football.

Allen sealed his recruiting for the 2020 season in early February with 20 signees. Flagship state schools with tradition are supposed to be the bigfoots at home, collecting commitments from the best high school players in their neighborhood with increasing success allowing for wider casting of nets to farther-flung states.

That is IU’s aspiration, and a glance at the roster’s geographical connections indicate this seems to be steadily moving closer to reality.

A vaguer potential virus impact on lining up future players is the lack of early recruiting because prospective 2021 freshmen told to stay home won’t take campus visits this spring. There are virtual tours to view IU on computers instead. Still, virtual tours are highlight reels. How many students will sign up for a school sight unseen? Hard sell.

“You just have to adapt and you just have to adjust,” Allen said, “and we’re all in the same boat. Every team in the country is dealing with this.”

Every team, every person.