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Sports Business

Hoosiers' heritage takes a beating

May 4, 2012
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It’s been a tough week for Indiana traditions.

First we found out the Indianapolis 500 might not have 33 cars starting the race for the first time since most people can remember. Then we discovered that Jim Nabors’ singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” is going to be via video tape.

Top it off with a spat between athletic departments that ended the storied University of Kentucky and Indiana University men’s basketball match-up.

Eleven rows of three cars have started the Greatest Spectacle in Racing since 1934.

Indiana and Kentucky have played every year since 1969.

Nabors has sung “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the 500 since 1972.

I have to admit, I don’t quite understand locals’ attachment to Nabors, an Alabama native who lives in Hawaii, singing “Back Home.”

Yes, the song should be sung before the race as long as the race is run. But I’m quite certain someone else could have been found when Nabors became incapable of a live performance.

And before you all get started, yes, I am a Hoosier, born and bred. I came into this world at Beech Grove’s St. Francis Hospital in 1966, and live about a mile from where I grew up next to Southport High School. I've attended numerous Indy 500s. My first in 1973. I’m about as homegrown as it gets.

Nabors has a wonderful voice, and so do a lot of others—including a handful of Hoosiers I could name. I'm certain there are others who could belt out a stirring rendition glorifying the moonlight on the Wabash.

But after tweeting about Nabors on Thursday, I realized how many people—for whatever reasons—are deeply attached to this tradition, and I’m not going to berate their feelings. I know, change is hard. Maybe harder for us Hoosiers than most. And I respect that.

That’s why it’s especially painful for us to see a change that isn’t necessary. At least in Nabors’ case, there’s a good reason why he won’t be in Indianapolis. The 81-year-old is medically unable.

The Indiana and Kentucky match-up is ending because grown men have decided there’s no way to compromise. This impasse comes down to money, exposure and recruiting.

It’s noble that IU Athletic Director Fred Glass and Coach Tom Crean want to keep the game on campus and accessible to the students. But the truth is that UK’s getting any more exposure in the Indianapolis market—where more than a few of their best recruits have come from over the years—is no good for IU.

Kentucky wants to play to a wider audience at Lucas Oil Stadium. IU wants the games played in Bloomington and Lexington.

So IU did what it felt was necessary to get a leg up in this intensified recruiting war. Strategically smart perhaps, but at what cost? Now, instead of not having a game on campus for a few thousand students to enjoy live, what do we have? No game. No tradition. No enjoyment for anyone. That’s the dictionary definition of lose-lose. Or maybe lose-lose-lose. I’ve lost count.

It’s safe to say the warm, fuzzy friendship between Crean and UK Coach John Calipari just had a layer of ice frosted over it.

At least there’s hope that the oldest of these three beloved traditions can be saved. Driver Jay Howard is still trying to scrape together a deal to get himself a Lotus or Chevy engine to have the 33rd car to enter for this year’s Indianapolis 500. At this point, he’d probably take a Briggs & Stratton.

Oddly, I’ve heard more concern over the crooner of “Back Home” than about having a full field to start this tradition-rich race. I suppose Tony George was right when he said “33 is just a number.”

And May in Indiana is just May. The sign of spring and of new beginnings.

Though this May seems to be more a sign of painful endings.

Well, for this year anyway, at least we have Gomer.

Goooleee!

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