Sports Business

SPORTS: It's about more than hoops if Chicago gets tourneys

March 6, 2006

Our month of Much Madness has begun.

Forty-one games in 33 days downtown. The Big Ten women's and men's tournaments (20 games). The IHSAA girls' and boys'state finals (eight games). The National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Star Game on Final Four weekend. The NCAA Men's Final Four (three games). And, interspersed throughout, nine Indiana Pacers home games.

So what's your pleasure? High school, college, pro? No matter the level, it is coming to Indianapolis in abundance. Quality and quantity, packaged so tightly that if you pitched a tent at the corner of Meridian and Georgia streets, you wouldn't have to move more than two blocks either way to take it all in.

But before we get fully involved in the fun of it all-totally immersed in the hoops and the hoopla-it is good to reflect on where we once were, where we are, and where we're headed.

It's just a reminder that what will occur is not coincidence, but the result of vision, planning and execution not to be taken for granted.

Somebody-a whole bunch of somebodies-actually sat down and thought this all up.

I was reminded of that recently in Chicago as I sat with an Indianapolis panel attempting to persuade the athletic directors, women's administrators, faculty representatives and Big Ten staff to keep the Big Ten women's and men's basketball tournaments in Indianapolis.

While the league's women's tournament has been here 11 of the last 12 years, the men's tournament has alternated between Indianapolis and Chicago on an everyother-year basis since 2000. However, beginning in 2008, the Big Ten's stated desire is to choose either the City Indy or the Windy City and move both tournaments there through perhaps 2015.

This next opinion comes to you with not the slightest hint of objectivity: If the Big Ten adheres to its goals of using the tournaments as a festive celebration of Big Ten basketball and of continuing to make strides toward gender equity, the decision is a nobrainer. Indianapolis is the obvious choice.

With regard to the former, while Chicago kind of puts its arm around the Big Ten men's tournament, Indianapolis gives it a full-body hug, adding to the mix pep rallies, "fight-song karaoke nights," street signage and fieldhouse trophy cases filled with memorabilia. And that's just a sample.

With regard to the latter, Indianapolis continues to embrace women's sports in general and the Big Ten women's tournament in particular. Organizers pour as much effort-if not more-into making the women's tournament a success as they do the men's. Until this year, Chicago hasn't shown any interest in the women's event. And its bid for the future tournaments is not for the United Center (where the men's tournament is played) but for two smaller venues. That's a note to the ladies that says because they're not equal in revenue potential, they're to be separated into another venue.

When it comes to convenience, Chicago also would have to plead no contest. As our group flew back to Indianapolis following the presentation, we were afforded the breathtaking view of the Loop. Yet, I had to note, amid all that beauty, there was no basketball arena to be found. Building the United Center four miles from the hotels, restaurants and everything else that makes Chicago Chicago was, if not a mistake, at least a missed opportunity.

Indy, to its credit, has not passed on such opportunities, which has allowed it to become the undisputed basketball capital of the world. As much as we sometimes dwell on what we don't have, I like to think about what we do have, and especially how we have capitalized on two major sports assets: basketball and auto racing.

At the presentation in Chicago, Gov. Mitch Daniels delivered a message via video and made an excellent point: When you're smaller, specialization can be a good thing. Indianapolis has specialized in basketball, and during the course of the next month, we will bear the fruit of that specialization.

Soon, too, we will have the best combination of basketball venues in the country: Conseco Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and, in 2008, "The Luke" or "The Oil Can" or whatever Lucas Oil Stadium morphs into (and for the record, I don't care what it's called as long as the checks don't bounce). It's almost been overlooked that the new "Colts" stadium has been designed to be state-of-the-art for mega-basketball events like the future Men's and Women's Final Fours.

No, we're not Chicago. But when it comes to basketball, that's a good thing.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column,go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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