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Pacers reforms, new Lucas Oil Stadium, NCAA 2010 tournament boost Indy's sports reputation

November 10, 2008
Of this, that and the other:

I was in attendance as the Indiana Pacers opened their home season at Conseco Fieldhouse with a resounding victory over the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics.

No, one game does not a season make, just as the next home-game loss to Phoenix didn't break it.

But it was a great opening statement about the upward direction of the franchise. And, if only for a night, for the first time in a long, long time, it seemed like old times.

Even in a difficult economic climate — one the Pacers are trying to address in innovative ways — I believe the community is ready to wrap its arms around the franchise once again. Without question, sellouts will be the rare exception and it will take winning —duh!— to bring it all the way back.

What I enjoyed was the game atmosphere. It felt like a basketball environment, as opposed to a game squeezed in between an ear-splitting hard-rock/rap/hip-hop concert. I want something that feels like Indiana basketball, where the crowd makes the most noise instead of having it blasted through the loudspeakers. The Pacers Pep Band also is a terrific touch. So is the organ music.

On a related note, the Pacers did what they had to do when they re-signed Danny Granger, rather than allow him to twist in the wind of his contract year and become a restricted free agent next summer. Granger is not just the right kind of player, but the right kind of person upon which this franchise can build.

Oh, and does anyone miss Jamal Tinsley? Didn't think so.

Moving on.

Despite the memorandum of understanding among the NCAA, the city and the Indiana Sports Corp. regarding the awarding of future men's and women's Final Fours to Indianapolis, city officials still have to meet — if not exceed — the NCAA's bid requirements. In short, to borrow a basketball phrase, it's not a slam dunk.

So as the NCAA entertains overtures from 10 cities bidding for the next round of men's and women's Final Fours, Indianapolis has not taken its NCAA headquarters city status for granted. It is competing as if the playing field were absolutely level.

That said, it was encouraging to hear what NCAA officials said about Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium during recent ceremonies that marked the unveiling of the 2010 Men's Final Four logo.

NCAA Vice President Tom Jernstedt, who was a great friend of the city long before he moved here when the NCAA relocated, referenced the investment in Lucas Oil Stadium, the new airport terminal, and expansion of the convention center.

"I give a lot of credit to Indianapolis," he said. "It set the pace many, many years ago to make the Final Four what it is today. And just when other cities think they're catching up to Indianapolis, Indianapolis moves forward."

And this from Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and chairman of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee:

"This magnificent structure [LOS] will no doubt be the home of many, many more Final Fours. Few, if any, embrace sporting events like Indianapolis. When you speak to fans, the one place they tell you they want to come back and back and back to is Indianapolis."

Nice to hear. But it goes beyond hoop dreams. NCAA events have been a mainstay of the sports initiative in a variety of sports ... swimming, diving, track and field, and rowing, just to name a few.

Moving forward, that list is likely to expand.

It drew scant attention when it was announced, but the NCAA has designated Indianapolis as one of six cities to be part of its pilot "Championship Cities" program.

That designation enables Indianapolis — along with San Antonio; Cary, N.C. (the Raleigh area); Cleveland; St. Louis; San Diego; and San Antonio — to pursue Division I, II and III men's and women's championships in multiple sports through 2012.

The six cities were chosen from an initial list of more than three dozen. While not on the scale of a Final Four, it still has the potential to bring a sizable chunk of sports business to Indy, not to mention the kinds of student-athletes who can provide inspiration for our local youth.

There's nothing wrong, ever, about having events that attract the best and brightest to our town and this is yet another example of how the investment in sports in general and the NCAA in particular results in both real and intangible dividends.

I'm eager to see how it plays out.

___

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. 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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