College Cup, an oasis for thirsty IU football fans
The 2020-21 varsity sports season was a wasteland for fans in the stands.
There have been no non-conference games for those living outside the Big Ten footprint and protocols have limited attendance by athletes’ families.
There was no tangible connection to the games and the athletes, just TV and live broadcasts.
However, for some die-hard Hoosiers, the College Cup in Cary, North Carolina provides a long-awaited oasis by allowing 3,000 fans to attend.
Jeff Herbst made a promise.
If Indiana made it to the College Cup, he would take his two children to see the Hoosiers play.
The oldest, Lauren, graduated from UI last spring as COVID wiped out all the fanfare of her final months on campus.
Connor is on the other end of the spectrum after completing his freshman year in Indiana without being able to attend a single sporting event in person.
“Between the end of last year and this year with COVID, it’s been really tough,” Herbst said. “When they announced they were moving football to the spring, I told the kids that we would find a way to get (to the College Cup) if Indiana was there.”
On Friday, he packed his children and two cans of emergency gasoline – due to the shortage of gas in the pipeline – into the car and headed south.
Herbst has been involved in IU football games since he was a student at Bloomington in the early 1990s, when current Indiana coach Todd Yeagley was a player.
“I waited for the Yeagley family when I was working at Red Lobster,” he said. “Great people.”
The Noblesville resident also remembers Todd Yeagley’s last year in 1994 when the Hoosiers fell in the national title game.
“They were probably one of the best teams that didn’t win everything,” said Herbst. “That and 2018 were probably two of the best.”
Jeff and Lauren traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., In 2018 to watch Indiana fall in the national semifinals in Maryland.
“It’s hard to beat the same team three times in a row,” he said.
They’re hoping for luck and a little redemption this time around. The Herbsts certainly have a lot of faith, buying their College Cup tickets when they went on sale last weekend, three days before the Hoosiers punched their ticket into the field.
“You only live once, so we’ve given it a whirl,” said Herbst, whose last in-person sporting event was a Pacers game in early March. “Thank goodness they played one of their best games in the tournament.”
The journey is short, but the wait has been long for Elias Burch.
The 2013 IU graduate just has to hop onto Interstate 40 from his home in Hillsborough, NC, and 35 minutes later he’s in the parking lot at WakeMed Soccer Park.
A buyer for SOCCER.com retail site, Burch has been a Hoosier his entire life, wherever he has lived. His father, Bruce, attended Indiana from 1982 to 1986, marking his college years between the NCAA basketball titles in 1981 and 1987.
Elias was born in northern Indiana, spent much of his childhood in the mountains of North Carolina, then completed his last two years of high school in Bloomington North before settling briefly on campus.
“My dad was more of a basketball player, but once I started playing football he got more interested,” said Burch. “We watched IU football and basketball games on TV when we could or listened to it on the radio, so I grew up around Indiana sports.”
The father-son duo made trips to see IU football in the 1999 and 2003 title games, while Elias was in Hoover, Ala., To watch the Hoosiers win their eighth national title in 2012 as the ‘student. He also served on the Student Athletic Board (SAB) for a year, meaning he attended team dinners at the Yeagley House.
Now Elias and Bruce can finally see their Hoosiers play in person again, something that hadn’t happened in any sport since the Indiana-Duke basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, in 2018.
They’ll do it from a prime midfield position, an added bonus by checking out the NCAA ticketing site just before the link was posted publicly on social media last weekend. If Indiana would be there, Burch didn’t know at the time, but it was worth the risk and the wait.
Abby Frank officially graduated from Indiana.
The ceremony took place last weekend, but Frank had a goal she says there is still time to reach.
“I was hoping to have a national championship by the time I left IU,” she said. “(The College Cup) might be my last push, unless baseball can have a big run.”
Frank is ending his tenure as SAB President after finding the organization, which runs the Crimson Guard’s student section for all IU varsity sports, is a perfect fit.
“I went to Carmel in high school, which is pretty big, and I quickly realized you needed a small group,” Frank said. “As soon as I set foot in IU, I knew I needed a small group and my dad said, ‘What about those kids with the red jackets?’
“In the fall of my freshman year, I went to soccer games alone, but I wasn’t alone because I could meet new people and make new friends. I found soccer in the fall to be a great opportunity for people to get involved.
The SAB is the heart of the student section of IU football matches known as the Hoosier Army. With the opportunity to attend games shattered this year, Frank and fellow SAB members Nate Capek, Matt Shabelman and Noah Myers decided to buy tickets and leave Bloomington on Friday morning to support the Hoosiers.
“School ended last week, so we decided to make the trip,” Frank said.
This will actually be her third in-person sporting event of the year, as she had previously secured tickets to the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Indianapolis in March.
In both of these cases, the Hoosiers were one and done. Frank was hoping for a longer stay this time.
“I’m nervous but excited,” she said. “I don’t want to have to drive home 10 hours the next day.”