Benner/Sports and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Weighing in on Kiel, Manning and the Brickyard

August 6, 2011

Of this, that and the other:

I was delighted to see Indiana University’s new football coach, Kevin Wilson, land a verbal commitment from Gunner Kiel, the Columbus East High School senior who is the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the country in his recruiting class.

Some are saying Kiel is Indiana’s most significant recruit ever.

But I’m going to hold off making reservations for Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. I’m reminded that Indiana had the No. 1 offensive talent (statistically) in Big Ten history, Antwaan Randel El, and never went to a bowl game during his four seasons.

For all the gaudy numbers being put up by college offenses these days, defense still is the ultimate difference-maker. Wilson’s success at IU ultimately will be determined by his ability to recruit and develop talent on that side of the ball.

Still, Kiel is a major “get” for a program trying to claw its way up from the bottom.

Speaking of “Go Big Red,” I hear that University of Nebraska fans are so confident their Cornhuskers will (in their first year in the conference) make it to the Big Ten’s inaugural championship game Dec. 3 in Lucas Oil Stadium that they’ve purchased a disproportionate share of tickets and suites.

OK, you know I love Peyton Manning. Around here, we all (well, most of us) love Peyton Manning.

So we’re happy to see that he accepted less than market value and settled for “only” $18 million a year for the life of his new five-year contract that should take him to retirement. His pledge to play his entire career as an Indianapolis Colt is reassuring. Indy has been fortunate to have its two major-league franchises represented by two professional lifers—Manning and the Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller.

Nonetheless, I am puzzled as to why a man of his resources could not have found the best therapist in the world to begin treatment immediately on the surgically repaired disc in his neck. Instead, he insisted he could not commence therapy until the lockout ended so he could be in the hands of the Colts’ physical therapist.

Perhaps it won’t matter. It’s a month to the opener and Manning could fall off a truck, get up, and still be better than most of the guys at his position.

For the first time in years, I watched the Brickyard 400 not in person, but from the comfort of my TV room, cool drink in hand, cool breezes from the A.C. vent wafting by.

The option of the live, local telecast is among the multitude of reasons the Brickyard 400 is no longer selling out those 256,000 aluminum seats on a hot summer day. So is the style of racing (though I thought this was more entertaining than in years past), the proximity of other NASCAR tracks to Indy, a softening fan base overall and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Still, by most estimates, 130,000 folks showed up. That’s not an insignificant number.

Yet some believe the Brickyard is the worst thing that ever has happened to Indy, among them highly respected motorsports journalist Ed Hinton.

Writing for SI.com, Hinton wishes this would have been “the last Brickyard 400.”

He cited the “crass erosion of this hallowed ground” and likened the NASCAR event “to a herd of buffalo stampeding down the hardwood hallways of a palace, slipping and sliding.

“This sluggish event … ended Indy’s centennial era, 100 years since the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. And with Indy’s century ends its greatness.

“When you think about it, NASCAR is at the root of all the evils that have befallen Indy since the mid-1990s. Never would the fallen prince of Indy, Tony George, have split up Indy car racing if not for war chests filled with ticket and TV revenues from the NASCAR race here. He once admitted as much to me.

“So the 400 is the race that gutted the Indy 500 of its prestige, and nearly destroyed major open-wheel racing in America all together.”

Hinton further decried the addition of the Nationwide and Grand Am races to next year’s calendar and the addition of Crown Royal whiskey as a title sponsor for next year’s 400.

It is powerful writing. I don’t agree with all Hinton says, but there are, as Al Gore might say, some inconvenient truths contained therein.

It’s well worth a Google and a read.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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