There’s long been this comparison between the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers: Penn State is a football school with little basketball tradition, and Indiana is a basketball school with little football tradition.
With the two teams playing this week, let’s have a look at which overall athletic program has the better tradition.
Penn State fans certainly will claim that, because football is king in this country, and the Lions have long been a national power.
But a case can be made that Indiana has had as much or more success in its primary sport, basketball, than PSU has had in football.
Let’s look at some numbers:
Football vs. basketball
PSU football: Two national titles (1982 and ’86)
Indiana basketball: Five national titles (1940, ’53, ’76 — last undefeated season in major college hoops — ’81 and ’87)
Advantage: Indiana — One thing that’s interesting here is that both these programs last reached their pinnacles around the same time — between 1981-87 — and neither has won a championship in more than 30 years. PSU fans can argue the Lions should have won national titles during three other undefeated seasons (’68, ’69, ’94), but the fact of the matter is PSU didn’t win those titles. So the number is 5 to 2.
PSU football: 50 bowl games (30-18-2 record); 22-1 all-time record against Indiana
Indiana basketball: Eight Final Fours (1940, ’53, ’73, ’76, ’81, ’87, ’92, ’02), 39 NCAA Tournaments, 11 Elite Eights, 22 Sweet 16s
Advantage: Eight Final Fours is impressive for the Hoosiers. But PSU actually gets the edge here because it has finished in the AP top four 11 times since 1947 (#4 in ’47, #2 in ’68, #2 in ’69, #4 in ’78, #3 in ’81, #1 in ’82, #3 in ’85, #1 in ’86, #3 in ’91, #2 in ’94, #3 in ’05).
Joe Paterno: DI career wins leader with 409, two national titles, five undefeated seasons
Bob Knight: 902-371 record, third all-time in DI wins, three national titles, 1984 Olympic gold medal
Two GIANTS in their sports. I’m not getting into off-the-field issues here. What these men did with their teams over several decades was incredible.
Advantage: Close call, but Paterno gets the edge in my book. Knight has one more national title. But Paterno certainly could have had at least one more if not for voters going in another direction, plus he had five undefeated seasons.
The flip side: PSU basketball vs. Indiana football
There’s not a whole lot here, folks.
PSU basketball: Only 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, counting the one it would have had in 2020 (1942, ’52, ’54, ’55, ’65, ’91, ’96, ’01, ’11, ’20). One Final Four (’54) and two Elite Eights (’42, ’54).
Indiana football: Yikes. Only 12 bowl appearances, with a 3-9 record. The Hoosiers have been to bowl games in 2015, ’16 and ’19 under former coach Kevin Wilson and two under current coach Tom Allen, and the program has made good strides in recent years.
Advantage: This one’s pretty easy. Indiana football has been pretty bad for a long time, with very little success to point to. Penn State basketball at least has had pockets of success with some NCAA Tournament appearances, so the Lions get the nod here.
This is obviously a website covering PSU sports, so clearly there’s gonna be some bias, intended or not. But Penn State football has been light years better than Indiana football for so long. Yes, the Hoosiers have had tremendous national success in basketball compared to PSU, but at least the Lions have been decent enough at times to warrant some national recognition.
It basically comes down to this: PSU football, in my opinion, has had slightly more success than Indiana basketball, while PSU basketball has had more success than Indiana football.
So, Penn State gets the vote here.
Also, Penn State has had more success than Indiana in its overall athletic department when it comes to national titles. The Lions have had tremendous success in wrestling, women’s volleyball and fencing. Indiana has never had a women’s team win a national title from the NCAA.
The following are from Wikipedia:
Penn State NCAA team championships
Penn State University has won 51 NCAA team national championships.
- Men’s (27):
- Women’s (11):
- Co-ed (13)
- Fencing (13): 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014
Indiana NCAA team championships
Indiana has won 24 NCAA team national championships.
- Men’s (24)
Get Nittany Sports Now in your inbox
Sign-up for email updates and get the whole story first from the Nittany Sports Now team, delivered straight to your inbox.