And Another Thing

JG columnist Ben Smith talks about IPFW's chances in men's and women's Summit League tourney

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Ben Smith

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New IPFW AD likes view, chair

Hartley Hutton

It’s yet another refrigerated afternoon in the Winter That Dare Not Speak Its Name, and here in IPFW Athletic Director Kelley Hartley Hutton’s office, the topic has turned to current events. It’s kind of a favorite these days.

The men’s basketball team, after all, is at 21 wins and counting, and, if it wins at Omaha today, it will secure the No. 2 seed in the Summit League tournament.

The women, meanwhile, will lock down the No. 3 seed if they win today.

The softball team, and pitcher Miranda Kramer in particular, just made a sizeable national splash by beating No. 16 Texas. Men’s volleyball just took down No. 10 Lewis. And outside Hartley Hutton’s window, which overlooks the indoor track …

“Now we can host a premier event like this,” Hartley Hutton says, gazing out the window.

Down there a scattering of athletes are warming up on the track, part of an unending procession this particular afternoon. IPFW is playing host to the Summit League’s indoor track and field championships this weekend, and so here are a bunch of Western Illinois Leathernecks filing in and a bunch of Omaha Mavericks filing out.

That makes these heady days if you’re Hartley Hutton, chosen a week ago as IPFW’s AD after filling the chair on an interim basis for the last six months. She took the job then only on the condition that she could also coach her women’s volleyball team through the season, something she’d done for 15 seasons at IPFW. But the very process of sitting in that chair convinced her that she wanted to keep sitting in that chair.

“I don’t think you know until you go through the process, because you learn … if it’s a job where you can indeed be successful and have a positive impact,” she says.

And there are positives these days. Hartley Hutton is quick to point out what a powerful hook “a Big Ten degree” is in landing recruits, then talks about what a rush it is to see, say, basketball standout Amanda Hyde as a first-team academic All-American.

“IPFW is on that list with the Stanfords,” she says. “It’s just amazing to me. At this level, we have the ability to truly place academics first.”

Not that there isn’t a price, of course. IPFW’s move to Division I more than a decade ago was debated then and continues to be debated in some circles to this day. That’s particularly true at the moment, with the university’s enrollment down.

“Yeah, there are concerns,” says Hartley Hutton, acknowledging that one of her points of emphasis is to ramp up IPFW’s scholarship base. “But it’s an investment. It’s an investment that you hope to see a return on in some way. You look at the numbers, there are only seven Division I schools that don’t use institutional resources for athletics. So there’s kind of a misconception all these schools are making money on athletics.”

IPFW, needless to say, is not one of the seven. Which makes it imperative that it continue to grow its booster base so it can continue to upgrade facilities that need it.

“We have very good baseball and softball teams, and softball is doing things on a national scope,” Hartley Hutton says, by way of example. “But we do not have Division I facilities. That’s not a secret.”

Neither is this: Division I will always be a balancing act for mid-majors such as IPFW. And making it worth the investment will always be the trickiest part.

“I think this campus for the most part does understand the value of Division I athletics,” Hartley Hutton says.

The proof, on this day, is right outside her window.

“All these athletes are staying in hotels and eating in restaurants this weekend,” Hartley Hutton says, looking down at the track. “More importantly there’s a lot of opportunity for student-athletes to compete at a very high level – and for Fort Wayne to be their host.”

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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