Their minds on basketball, Hoosiers use football season to wait — and party

Saturday, September 21, 2013 | 4:45 p.m. CDT; updated 9:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 21, 2013
Indiana and Missouri fans walk down Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington, Ind,. before Saturday's game.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - If you're a student at Indiana University on a Friday afternoon, Saturday's football game is far from your mind.

Who could blame you? A quick look at Dunn Meadow, at the heart of Indiana's campus, gives an image of a college campus for the movies.

A steady rain has come over Bloomington, but that hasn’t stopped the Hoosiers from starting their weekend. A pickup football game is being played down by a creek, an impromptu Slip 'n' Slide has been created out of a tarp, and a group of students dressed in various costumes weaves its way in between trees and the majestic gray and tan buildings that cover the campus.

This is just the afternoon entertainment. When the sun sets, Kirkwood and Forrest avenues will serve as the party spot. So will Third Street. Pretty much every student gives a different location when asked about the campus's hot party spot. That's just it. At Indiana, the party is everywhere.

It’s at Kilroy's Bar 'n' Grill in downtown Bloomington for those of legal age, and it's spread out across the various fraternity houses for everyone else.

Speaking of parties, the Saturday tailgates are the part of football game days that generates the buzz on campus. Many Hoosiers won't pass up eating burgers, consuming alcohol and hanging with friends on the lawn outside Memorial Stadium on a Saturday afternoon beneath the sea of tents. 

The university has made an effort to organize the tailgates in recent years, picking a start time and end time to encourage students and fans to make their way into the stadium for kickoff. But that doesn't always happen. In fact, a successful afternoon of tailgating rarely results in your making it into Memorial Stadium. 

Attendance has been better this season, but still, some enter the stadium reluctantly.

"My parents are going to be there, so I'm going to make it to the game," Indiana upperclassman Austin Galm says with a reluctant shrug.

When given the choice, many don't put football at the top of their priority list.

"My parents were here last weekend, so I'm having fun this weekend," Indiana student Jennifer Scott says. 

Apparently fun doesn't involve the football game, even if a team from the Southeastern Conference is coming to town to play a prime-time game under the lights. Attendance has increased some, but the school still has trouble persuading enough of its 40,000-plus students to pack the stadium for Indiana football.

It's nothing against football, really. Indiana just isn't very good and hasn't been for a while. There's a reason Indiana is a basketball school. The football tradition doesn't even come close to the mystique of Hoosier basketball — the five NCAA National Championship banners, the historic Assembly Hall and Bob Knight. Basketball brings an added energy to campus that the football team, which hasn't won a bowl game since 1991, just can’t match.

That's why, even at 8 p.m. on a Friday night,  the smaller of two recreational centers on campus has 10 basketball courts full with pickup games and a crowd of people waiting to play.

And students don't hesitate to let you know they're hungry for a sixth national championship.

"We love our basketball," says Aaron Simpson, an Indiana student.

There's a lot to do at IU, and football is just one of those things. It's not the main attraction. 

Maybe Saturday will be different. Maybe students will find their way from the tailgate to the football stadium before flooding Kirkwood Avenue for the real party. 

Maybe the fact that Indiana is playing in prime time against Missouri — its toughest non-conference opponent — will spark some interest. 

But in reality, the Hoosiers are just waiting for basketball season. In the meantime, they'll party.

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