KNOXVILLE — Wives who married into some of the nation's bitterest rivalries are bonding, thanks to connections made on a social networking website.
Joani Crean and Jerri Painter are two examples.
While Indiana and Purdue are beating each other's brains out on the court, the wives of Hoosiers coach Tom Crean and Boilermakers coach Matt Painter share hugs, smiles and stories.
"It's funny because Indiana and Purdue is a pretty tough rivalry," Crean said. "The guys compete on the court, but there has to be a real-life connection."
More than 700 spouses are members of the site, which is open to wives of collegiate coaches in any sport and allows members to post photos, leave messages or participate in forums. The members share their gameday fashions, talk about bringing children to games or commiserate about their husbands' absences during recruiting season.
Martin said she had the idea for MarriedToTheGame after her husband left his job as a Purdue assistant and accepted the head coaching position at Missouri State in 2008. She left her own full-time job and became a stay-at-home mom in the process.
"It was my first time being a stay-at-home mom, and I was running on the treadmill, and I was like, 'Certainly there are other wives who have gone through this transition,'" Martin said. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a way to connect with them,' and I was just getting into Facebook at the time."
After finding a hosting site, Martin asked her friend Shenetta Webster to help administer the site. Webster and Martin had gotten to know each other when their husbands were both Purdue assistants from 2003-04 and have been reunited in Knoxville, with Webster's husband, Tracy, joining Cuonzo Martin's staff this season.
Transitioning from one city to another while following their husband's coaching career is one topic members talk about. They reach out to other members who can help them become familiar with their new homes, advertise a home for sale or just talk about the stresses that come from frequent relocations.
Connie Whitesell is currently in the middle of her own relocation after husband Jim was fired from Loyola and accepted a job as a Saint Louis assistant. Through connections on MarriedToTheGame, she's gotten to know St. Louis as she prepares to move there from Chicago.
"I think the thing I appreciate it the most is that there are some really unique challenges that are faced by the families and spouses of coaches," she said. "All the movement that goes on and how your husband can get a new job and have to be there within hours while the spouses are coordinating the efforts back at home."
That's one reason why it's helpful for spouses to have a support network, said sports psychologist Bill Cole, a former collegiate tennis player and coach.
"You don't feel so strange or ostracized," said Cole, who is also founder and president of the International Mental Game Coaching Association. "It normalizes what they're going through. They realize, 'Wow, I'm not the only one, although I still don't like it.'"
Martin said her husband would joke that he'd lost his wife to MarriedToTheGame as she and Webster put many hours into developing the website early on. But the coach came to appreciate it when he attended the Final Four the following year and was approached by coaches whose wives were excited about the site.
"There's constant feedback that we get when we run into wives at national conventions and at games," Martin said. "They always say, 'I was thinking, why wasn't there something like this when I found your site.'"
Beth Rucker can be reached at http://twitter.com/bethrucker