Benner/Sports and Opinion

BENNER: What's next on city's sports calendar? Plenty

February 18, 2012

In the wake of the departure of the Roman Numerals, there have been many questions.

Starting with, what’s next?

Sure, it’s logical to want to know how Indianapolis can top that one.

But it’s not like the Super Bowl devoured everything in sight and suddenly the cupboard is bare.

What’s next?

How about what is right now: the Indiana Pacers. While the Super Bowl sapped our collective energy and attention, the Pacers have gone about making themselves into potentially one of the NBA’s best feel-good stories of this condensed season.

Yes, as this is being written, they have hit a bit of a skid. Not to make excuses, but I will: The Pacers began to struggle after they lost guard George Hill, who is out for an extended period with an ankle injury. And I believe that with the crazy schedule, few teams will be able to avoid a stretch when they step on the gas only to find the tank empty.

But I submit that this is a team that now represents everything a skeptical public said they wanted to see: an all-star talent in center Roy Hibbert; a rising young star in Paul George; a player, Danny Granger, willing to put the offense on his back when need be and absorb the consequences that go with that; the toughness of David West and Tyler Hansbrough; consistent point-guard play from Darren Collison and, without question, the coaching of Frank Vogel and his staff.

It is good, competitive basketball being played by high-character guys. Yet the citizenry isn’t buying—at least in large numbers—what the Pacers are selling. Their marketing folks are knocking themselves out with ticket specials and discounts and the Pacers are near the bottom of the league in average ticket prices.

There is interest, as evidenced by the Pacers’ local TV ratings, which are on the rise, and maybe it’s just too easy to watch them from the easy chair. Bottom line: Just keep winning. And try to avoid the buzz-killing home-court defeats in front of good crowds, e.g., to Orlando, Denver and Miami so far this season.

What’s next?

The NFL Scouting Combine this week celebrates its 25th anniversary in Indianapolis and, while there were multiple factors that landed Indy the Super Bowl, the success of hosting the combine all those years certainly was part of the bid’s foundation. To NFL owners and team executives, Indianapolis has been anything but an unknown.

What’s next?

The Big Ten women’s and men’s tournaments. With regard to the latter, if Indiana University could (at long last) be a contender for the title, the tournament might close out its five-year run with record-setting attendance. At the very least, when the tournaments head to Chicago next year (they will be back in Indy in 2014 and 2016), Windy City organizers know they will have a high bar to clear to match the atmosphere Indianapolis has brought to both.

What’s next?

With the new Dallara chassis and three engine manufacturers lined up, I am absolutely stoked about what the month of May might bring to the Indianapolis 500. And if the Pacers are still in action, we can reprise the racers-Pacers action that brought such buzz to the city in the 1990s.

What’s next?

If you caught Phil Mickelson out dueling Tiger Woods at last week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, think about the possibility of them doing it again in September when the BMW Championships come to Crooked Stick.

What’s next?

How about four more Big Ten championship football games?

What’s next?

It’s not too soon to be looking ahead to the return of the NCAA’s Men’s Final Four in 2015 and the Women’s Final Four in 2016. Just think what the addition of Georgia Street—the Final Four Village?—could mean to the atmosphere of those two events? Organizers already are.

What’s next?

We should begin to think about launching a bid for another Super Bowl. But we should be careful and strategic. The drain on both financial and human resources was enormous. This is not, in my estimation, something we should aspire to have every five years. But every eight to 10? Absolutely.

What’s next?

I certainly hope Indy will begin to pursue significant Olympic Trials for 2016. Gymnastics? Track and field? Swimming or diving? Rowing? Track cycling? Hey, let’s dream big and go for all of the above.

Maybe “What’s next?” should be answered with, “Why not?”•

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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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