Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and NCAA and Pacers and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Indiana Sports Corp. scores; Pacers need butts in seats

March 31, 2012

Thoughts on this, that and the other:

The Indiana Sports Corp. scored the first touchdown of next fall by keeping Super Bowl CEO Allison Melangton where she belongs … here in her adopted hometown.

After the stunning success of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Melangton could have written her ticket to just about any high-level sports event management entity in America.

But behind the scenes in the Super Bowl run-up, Sports Corp. board Chairman Joe DeGroff and his team were looking to orchestrate an orderly transition when current ISC President Susan Williams let it be known she was contemplating retirement.

So it’s a done deal. In September, Williams will take to the easy chair with Melangton replacing her in the big chair of the Sports Corp.’s Pan Am office.

Williams had a solid tenure, helping to get the Sports Corp.’s financial house in order while strengthening relationships with the NCAA and Big Ten. Signature achievements during Williams’ run included the Big Ten’s decision to award Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium its first five championship football games, the ongoing management of the Big Ten basketball tournaments, and flawlessly executed NCAA men’s and women’s Final Fours.

A lesser-known local event, the Corporate Challenge, also grew significantly during Williams’ tenure.

So Melangton will return to the Sports Corp. (She was vice president of events there before the Super Bowl gig.) But we are no longer the “amateur sports capital of the world.” Among Melangton’s tasks will be trying to reassert Indianapolis’ presence in the amateur sports arena.

Melangton says she has eyes on numerous Olympic Trials in 2016 but she also will need to work with local partners— in particular, IUPUI—to make certain we maintain current venues (natatorium, track and field stadium) while looking for creative ways to use others.

Eventually, of course, Melangton also will have to consider pursuing that next Super Bowl bid.

• Beginning April 2, the Pacers will play 10 of their last 14 games at home, which provides the opportunity to do two things: 1) enhance their playoff seeding enough to earn home-court advantage in the first round and 2) see if they can light a fire under a fairly disinterested fan base that has the franchise second to last in attendance.

With the distractions of the Super Bowl, March Madness and the Peyton Manning watch behind us (and the NFL draft not until the last weekend of this month), maybe we can finally see if this can be a Pacers town again.

It has been reported that Larry Bird is contemplating hanging it up as the head of basketball operations. If so—and I hope he doesn’t—he will go out on a high note. His latest acquisition, Leandro Barbosa, looks like another perfect fit. It’s been 25 years (Oscar Schmidt, Marcel Sousa in the Pan American Games) since we’ve seen this kind of Brazilian instant offense on a basketball floor in Indy.

• I’ve said it before: If Tiger Woods is playing, I’m watching, and evidently I‘m not alone. Despite his fall from grace and the long road back, he remains one of the most compelling figures in sport. Hence, the 129-percent increase in television ratings for the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he won. If he’s in contention at Augusta National—and there’s no reason to think he won’t be—ratings will blow through the roof.

• Two-session attendance at the IHSAA Boys State Basketball Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse were the lowest since the tournament switched to the four-class system in 1997. Factors cited in the low turnout: spring break, small-school enrollments, nice weather, etc. The real reason is that the casual fan—the one with no school to cheer for—no longer makes the effort.

• Watching the Lady Vols of the University of Tennessee wind their way to the NCAA tournament’s regional finals was heartbreaking. Longtime coach Pat Summit, 59, still seems too young to have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, a rare precursor to Alzheimer’s. When Tennessee’s season ended with a loss to Baylor, you had to wonder if we will ever see her on the sideline again.

• And perhaps it’s the fresh memory of Butler, VCU and George Mason, but for all its star power, what this men’s Final Four lacks is an underdog. That said, I have a simple rooting interest: ABK (Anybody But Kentucky).•

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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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