Sports is, to a large degree, about expectations. Not the expectations of a team or coach, but that of its fans and the sporting community.
The New York Yankees are the most successful baseball team that ever existed. Since 1995, they have appeared in the playoffs every season except one. They have won five World Series in that time span.
The Yankees will finish the 2011 season with the second- or third-best record in baseball. Yankee fans are watching a team with three first-ballot Hall of Fame players in Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriquez and Mariano Rivera, one likely one in Jorge Posada and three others who, barring catastrophic injury, will be enshrined for eternity in Cooperstown.
Yet despite this fantastic success, which is the envy of every fanbase, all you have to do is ask any Yankee fan or read any Yankee message board and you'll find that only another World Series championship will meet the fans' expectations.
The United States Women's Soccer team did not need a championship to meet expectations.
Despite twice blowing a one-goal lead in the Women's World Cup final, an event most didn't even know was happening a month prior, the U.S. Women became national heroes.
This brings us to Indiana football and the Kevin Wilson era.
Expectations for this IU football team were very high from Hoosier Nation. Fans want to win. They want to win with a desperation that often blinds them to reality. Our expectations are rarely derived from an honest assessment of the situation.
What is a reasonable expectation for IU football this season?
Kevin Wilson stepped into a bad situation at IU.
He makes for a good sound bite, which inspires the fans. He comes from a winning tradition at Oklahoma and fans believe that success can be transferred to the Cream and Crimson.
But those kind of expectations are absurd to anyone who understands the challenges that Wilson and IU face. This isn't Wilson's team, at least in the sense that these are not the players he recruited. Wilson’s recruits won’t have an impact for at least a year or more.
The current crop of players come from a coach who ran a different system. Wilson is doing his best to fit round pegs into square holes. He can only “coach ‘em up” so much.
Wilson was not going to make a Sam Bradford out of the team's QB, or put up 60 points per game or add 200 pounds to the offensive and defensive lines. He can’t conjure a Gerald McCoy to play D-line or a Trent Williams to protect his quarterbacks out of talent that’s not there.
Maintaining reasonable expectations in sports is difficult. Heck, maybe it's completely impossible; we don't cheer for men and women playing games because it's the rational act of an educated individual.
Kevin Wilson and IU football 2011 are not a failure after losing to Ball State. IU football fans are not unreasonable for hoping to see a winner.
What is important is perspective.
Yankee fans should find some happiness that they get to cheer for a team that contends every season and is packed with once-in-a-generation talent. While the US Women's team played hard, they should have won a game they were favored in and twice had a late lead in. It's going to take time for Kevin Wilson to have an impact on IU football. There are a lot more bad losses and lousy performances coming down the pike.
It is all about meeting or exceeding expectations in sports. But since there's so much passion and love involved in sports, there's almost no chance those expectations are rational or given reasonable time to come to fruition.
Perspective is needed with expectations and patience needs to be a bigger part of being a fan. Those who keep these important qualities integrated into their fan-hood find an elusive joy that those who are blinded by unreasonable expectations are always searching for.