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Independent IPFW eyes conference affiliation

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 25
It isn't easy to be a Division I independent these days.

It isn't like the 1970s, when teams like Notre Dame (coached by current ESPN analyst Digger Phelps) and Marquette (coached by the late Al McGuire) were often in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, McGuire led Marquette to the national title in 1977.

IPFW is trying to hook up with either the Horizon League or Mid-Continent Conference.
Now there's excitement galore at Fort Wayne, Indiana as IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne) tries to hook up with either the Horizon League or Mid-Continent Conference. IPFW is chasing a dream to join a conference, and either league would be fortunate to add a program like this one.

I recently visited IPFW and came away impressed. I spoke at their pep rally and attended a book signing for "Living a Dream" (about my 25 years at ESPN). I loved the fan support there and enjoyed my visit.

The Mastadons play at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, a beautiful facility. It isn't Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the fans there still have a passion and a love for their team.

IPFW is fortunate to have passionate leadership up front. Coach Doug Noll, in his fifth season at the helm, is a believer who has assembled a solid group of young players. He has to be a believer to face such an ambitious schedule, but that is the life of an independent program.

Look at this lineup: trips to play at Purdue, Iowa State, Miami-Florida, West Virginia, Butler, Oregon State and Washington State. There are also home games against MAC schools Toledo, Bowling Green and Kent State. There's no doubt that this program wants to show it isn't afraid to play anyone, anywhere.

There is enthusiasm galore on campus. Athletic director Mark Pope has the dream of taking this program to a conference, much like what happened at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis). Remember how IUPUI coach Ron Hunter celebrated when his program reached the NCAA Tournament last season by winning the Mid-Continent tournament!

In life, if you chase a dream, you may catch one! Best of luck to the people at IPFW!

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