After Purdue Northwest announced last week that it had won its appeal for NCAA Division II membership, Matt Bush was so fired up, he spent four hours on the phone that night talking to recruits.
“It’s the NCAA brand,” the Pride’s men’s basketball coach said. “We’re one of those teams now. It’s going to open a lot of doors, no question about that. Kids know. You tell them you’re NAIA, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that — there’s a lot of great basketball at that level — but in today’s world, with all the marketing, it’s every kid’s dream to play at the NCAA level. It obviously gives us that carrot in recruiting, enhances our ability to recruit a higher level of athlete.”
The process sometimes can resemble a meat market and the bump in class means PNW baseball coach Dave Griffin no longer needs to wait his turn in line, holding a number. It also means he’ll have more to offer from a deeper recruiting coffer.
“You’ve got the kids’ ears more,” Griffin said. “The better players are going to listen to you now. Most of them, you have to wait on the D-Is. There’s a trickle down effect. This is going to open up a lot of doors that we couldn’t do easily before. We can adjust our sights, change our recruiting base.”
As a coach and instructor, Griffin has worked with players at all levels. Bush is no stranger to the dynamic either. He watched his son Matty play at D-II St. Joseph’s College, where he later returned as an assistant coach and lead recruiter.
“The best way I can answer the question of the talent level is to think of the Cubs and Reds being in the same division,” Griffin said. “It’s the same with Division II. Some are really good and some are really average. We have to aspire to be like the Cubs, to complete the roster with talented individuals.”
How long it will take and how far PNW’s teams have to come in order to be competitive certainly varies from one sport to the next. Some will come sooner, some later. It’s not an overnight deal, but both Bush and Griffin don’t expect to be anybody’s doormat.
“We’re not setting a timetable,” Bush said. “Our goal is to be able to compete right away. It’s up to the staff to work the streets, to find kids who can play at this level. It’s going to be a difficult step up, but it’s something the coaches and players are looking forward to.”
Likewise, Griffin doesn’t think his program is that far away.
“We’re in a decent situation to be able to hold our own,” he said. “It’s not like we’re starting from scratch. The caliber of kids is pretty good right now. We’ve been working toward this for a while, so we’re ahead of the curve in that regard. We just need a few more guys to able to catch up to the top. We have to be able to get it up and running soon. It’ll take a few years probably.”
Facilities are already a drawing card. The sprawling Hammond campus complex houses turfed baseball, softball and soccer fields. Bush has the best of both sites with the renovated gymnasium in Hammond and the brand new home court at their Westville home. It’s a long way in a short time from his old Purdue North Central squad’s days playing games down U.S. 421 at the high school.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Bush said. “It’s an exciting time, a great opportunity at a great school. A Purdue degree means a lot. The chancellor and A.D. are 100 percent behind us. They want us all to do well, all the way through the athletic department. Kudos to them for making it happen.”