At most Big Ten universities, if you asked someone on campus what the two most popular sports that school plays are, you’d probably get football and basketball in some order. There would definitely be some dissenting voices out there (hello Minnesota hockey, Maryland lacrosse, and Iowa wrestling fans, you’re probably wrong but I’ll acknowledge you anyway), but on the whole, the revenue sports are king, and everyone else is fighting for scraps. Individual sports may enjoy a brief run of popularity on some campuses, but rarely is there sustained support for a team that you’d rarely see on television outside of Big Ten Network broadcasts featuring student announcers.
In Bloomington, there are two non-revenue sports that are riding two very different sustained waves of popularity at present. One, men’s soccer, has been extremely popular for a very simple reason: they win national championships and frequently contend for them as well. The other, baseball, has only recently come to the forefront after a long stretch of being utterly forgettable, and the 2009 Big Ten championship was a flashpoint that created a self-sustaining monster playing on a brand new field and achieving heights rarely seen in the Big Ten.
Indiana Men’s Soccer - A Homegrown Juggernaut
The Hoosiers fielded a club sport soccer team from 1947, but it achieved varsity status in 1973 under the direction of Jerry Yeagley. In 31 years at the helm, Yeagley’s Hoosiers missed the NCAA soccer tournament three times (1973, 1975, 1986). In the other 28 seasons, they made 16 College Cup appearances (the soccer equivalent of basketball’s Final Four), converted that into 12 championship game appearances, and turned 6 of those into NCAA National Championships, including Yeagley’s final year in charge of the program. Mike Freitag took over in 2004 and immediately won Indiana’s 7th national championship, but despite continuing to make the NCAA tournament field, a 2008 NCAA quarterfinal appearance was not enough to get him a contract extension, and following the 2009 season he was let go. His replacement had a last name very familiar to Indiana fans: Yeagley, as in Todd, the son of the legendary Jerry. In his third year at the helm, Todd Yeagley brought Indiana its 8th national championship, a 1-0 victory over Georgetown. While the following regular season was particularly unkind to the Hoosiers, producing the first losing season in program history, Indiana won the Big Ten tournament and saved their 27 year streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (currently at 32 years at the conclusion of the 2018 season). The last two seasons have seen Indiana make back to back runs to the College Cup, but fail to complete the #Q49, falling in the final in 2017 and the semi-final last year. 2019 brings the #6 recruiting class in the country to Bloomington, headlined by current Indy Eleven USL academy player Joshua Penn.
Baseball - The New Kid on the Block
While the baseball program at Indiana is far older than the soccer program, and produced MLB level talent in fits and spurts through the 1980s and 1990s, the reason the program is popular today can be traced back to the 2009 team, which won the Big Ten tournament title as the 3rd seed and sent Indiana into the NCAA tournament for just the second time ever (1996 being their only prior appearance). That team was led by future Oakland Athletics catcher Josh Phegley, and would serve to raise all future expectations for Indiana baseball. While plans were already in place to replace the aging Sembower Field that the Hoosiers called home, it would not be until the opening of Bart Kauffmann Stadium in 2013 that Indiana would go above and beyond, reaching the College World Series for the first time on the back of future Chicago Cub Kyle Schwarber and future Boston Red Sox Sam Travis. While they would be eliminated quickly, the bar would once again be raised at Indiana, and only the 2016 team has since failed to make the NCAA tournament field. The 2019 Hoosiers won the Big Ten, and despite a poor showing in the Big Ten tournament was selected as the 2 seed in the Louisville Regional of this year’s NCAA tournament, joining Illinois State, UIC, and of course the Cardinals. The Hoosiers begin tournament play at 2pm on Friday against Illinois State.