Benner/Sports and NCAA and Lucas Oil Stadium and Sporting Events and Sports Business

Lucas Oil Stadium hosted basketball beautifully

April 6, 2009

Of this, that and the other as we transition from March Madness to, uh, what? April Anxiety? Perhaps with the tax-filing date approaching, that would be true. Anyway, congratulations to Stadium Director Mike Fox, assistant Andy Arnold and the amazing crew at Lucas Oil Stadium for transforming the venue into an intimate, 40,000-seat basketball venue for the NCAA's Midwest Regional.

And, yes, "intimate" is the correct adjective. Although we had seen the architectural renderings, it still was difficult to picture the reality of LOS as a basketball arena. Of course, NCAA officials had been involved in the design process from the outset, and the architects--HKS from Dallas--had promised to deliver a building that would somehow respond to the disparate demands of football, basketball and multi-functional use.

But basketball? Really?

NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt was right when he said LOS gives the impression "of a basketball arena where they play football, rather than a football stadium where they play basketball. I'm optimistic we'll have a very successful Final Four there [in 2010]."

If the regional is any indication, it will be. Thanks to the exceptional planning and attention to the tiniest detail, LOS received rave reviews from every constituency: the NCAA, local organizers, the media and, especially, the fans.

And as good as the seating bowl was, the backstage space at LOS--for the media workroom, the interview room, meeting rooms and the four identical locker rooms--is equally exceptional.

Next item ...

Bill York is the kind of guy who would not only give you the shirt off his back, but first would have it dry cleaned, pressed and delivered to your home.

Thus it was with surprise, and dismay, I learned he had been ousted as the media center coordinator at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 50 years on the job.

Not many in the general public know of York and his merry band of men and women who have handled behind-the-scenes media duties for the Speedway, Pacers, Colts, Fever, Racers, Checkers, Ice, Firebirds and virtually every other team or event that has taken place in the city over the years. But for the ink-stained wretches in the print media and the broadcast types, York and crew have been godsends, responding to every question or need no matter how trivial.

York's service has been so valuable that the Pacers recognized him by naming the media room for him when they moved into Conseco Fieldhouse. And my guess—hope—is that the Pacers and Colts will continue to use his services as long as the 75-year-old York wishes.

In the meantime, at the Speedway, it would have been nice to see York go out beneath a checkered flag instead of a red one.

Next item ...

Sports and the real world intersect in Detroit for the Final Four. Consider that the one person probably most responsible for landing the big event in the Motor City was Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors Corp. Uh, make that former CEO of General Motors. With GM and the American auto industry in financial peril, President Obama asked Wagoner to resign on the eve of the Final Four.

But on a brighter note was the somewhat unexpected presence of Michigan State University.

"In Detroit, let's face it, every state's been hit this year," said Spartans Coach Tom Izzo. "It's been a tough time. But ours has been hit maybe as hard as anybody's. I'm just hoping we're a silver lining in what's been a little bit of a cloudy year for us. I'm hoping that we're the sunshine."

Final item ...

The Indiana Pacers struck a positive chord last week when they partnered with Special Olympics to raise awareness for the "Spread the Word to End the Word" day. The Pacers hosted more than 300 Special Olympics Indiana athletes, coaches, volunteers and parents for the Chicago Bulls game. More important, they helped bring attention to the "End the Word" campaign. That word would be "retard," an awful slur that has become far too prevalent in our society. If you'd like to know more about the campaign, go to R-word.com.
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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com. 

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