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Crean using technology to rebuild IU's image

Thursday, April 30, 2009

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Tom Crean may be shedding Indiana's old-school image, at least when it comes to Hoosiers fans.

He turns out the lights briefly before home games, tapes pre-game video messages for fans and now has joined the ever-expanding world of Twitter.

About two weeks ago, Crean began posting messages on the online communications service so he could keep fans apprised of what's going on during the offseason. Since then, he has posted messages on everything from where he has traveled to opinions about other sports teams at Indiana.

To Crean, this is all about reaching out, expanding the fan base and reconstructing Indiana's image in the aftermath of the school's most serious NCAA scandal in nearly half a century.

"The bottom line is that we are still in such a major rebuilding phase at Indiana, so this is a way to put things out there," Crean said Thursday. "We don't want to make it corny, but I want to have fun with it."

He also wants to play by the rules.

Although the NCAA banned text messaging in August 2007, there are no rules preventing coaches from posting messages on online sites. There is a growing legion of coaches participating, including new Kentucky coach John Calipari.

So Crean conferred with athletic department officials about what can and cannot be posted and still meets twice a month with the compliance department to make sure he doesn't run afoul of NCAA rules regarding Twitter or anything else.

That puts a limit on how far he can go.

"If you start responding, now it's a text message and you're in trouble (with the NCAA)," he said.

Crean's account is designed to not receive messages from other users, and he refrains from explicitly stating which gyms or players he has visited. He will tell fans which cities he has been to and insists the posts are not intended for recruiting purposes.

All of it seems to be by the book.

But the stipulations don't prevent Crean from giving his own insights.

On Wednesday, after the school announced quarterback-turned-receiver Kellen Lewis had been dismissed from the football team for a second violation of team rules, Crean posted a sequence of messages that included this: "Last year when we let guys go was very hard even though they were the right decisions. ... Most coaches take dismissals very hard. Not for themselves as much as for the player. ... (IU football coach) Bill Lynch will find a way to deal with the adversity of losing a good player and rise above it."

At Indiana, which has won five national championships in men's basketball, it's certainly a change from the days of Bob Knight and Branch McCracken.

It's also a sign of the times.

The 43-year-old Crean understands a growing number of young Indiana fans are using the Internet and wants them to hear his plea to stay loyal to the Hoosiers during the rebuilding. He also wants them to know what's been going on during the offseason.

Primarily, that's been recruiting and teaching.

Crean said he has spent much of the past six weeks either recruiting, reviewing tapes or working with players on skill development.

A year ago, the program was gutted in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's phone-call scandal, forcing Crean to rebuild with a team that included only two returning players. The result was a dismal 6-25 season, the most losses in school history.

This spring, Crean lost two more probable contributors when Nick Williams and Malik Story decided to transfer.

Crean, though, has signed six recruits for next season and is still looking to fill other holes, a process that could take more time than Indiana fans had hoped.

"I can promise you that you will not look at the Sagarin Ratings at the end of the year and see Indiana with the No. 1 schedule in the country all year," Crean said. "We've got to get some confidence."

One way to do that is keeping fans engaged.

So Crean has stepped away from the traditional communication lines and entered a new world to get his message out whenever he wants.

Besides, Crean figures, it's a tool that won't be available to coaches much longer.

"Sure, it will get legislated at some point, but I think it's moving so fast that it's hard to keep up with it," Crean said. "I'm sure they (the NCAA) are looking at it."



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