SPORTS: City’s full-court press pays off with tourney victory

Keywords Sports Business

Before the press conference announcing the Big Ten’s decision about the future of its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, I pleaded-to no avail-with Conseco Fieldhouse Executive Director Rick Fuson to post a score on the fieldhouse board.

Indy 5, Windy 0.

He was right in refusing to play along. It’s always good to take the high road. No sense rubbing Chicago’s nose in the news that the Big Ten had awarded the tournaments to our burg for five successive years beginning in 2008.

Still, it’s perfectly OK to revel in our success. Going head to head with Chitown with all its amenities and advantages-not the least of which is its status as the Big Ten’s headquarters city-and emerging triumphant for a piece of business that will bring in $75 million to $100 million is something to be roundly celebrated.

It’s also recognition of our advantages, long ago envisioned, carefully developed and continuing to be capitalized upon. The design of downtown, the spectacular architecture of Conseco Fieldhouse, and the multiple ways local organizers and volunteers have embraced the tournaments when they have been here reinforce the message that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

It’s gratifying-and reassuring-that the Big Ten coaches, administrators and presidents paid attention to things beyond where they might rake in the largest pile of cash.

Having been involved in the bid process as a result of my day job, I would have rated Indy’s chances for success no better than 30 percent when the principals first gathered last December to discuss the proposal. Perhaps it was my own lingering Indy-feriority complex at play.

But as the bid took shape, and creative components such as the Big Ten job fair and an endowment for a student-athlete scholarship were added to it, there was a growing feeling that we were sitting atop a bulldozer, leveling the playing field.

Fuson and Baker & Daniels attorney Jack Swarbrick-two of the sharpest knives in our drawer-did masterful jobs of marshaling resources and preparing the presentation that took place in Chicago in late February. Allison Melangton of the Indiana Sports Corp.-one of Indy’s unsung heroes in the sports initiative-focused on the tiniest details and kept everyone on task.

Mayor Bart Peterson cleared his schedule and took part in the Chicago presentation. Don’t think that didn’t make an impression. Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke via video-his best line was, “When you come to Indianapolis, you own the joint”-as did former University of Iowa star and now Fort Wayne attorney Tiffany Gooden.

Former IU great Quinn Buckner spoke passionately about what basketball means in Indiana. Kelly Krauskopf, chief operating officer of the Indiana Fever, addressed Indy’s commitment to women’s sports in general and the Big Ten tournament in particular, which resonated with the women’s administrators.

ISC President Susan Williams addressed the commitment of Indy’s local organizing committee and volunteers. Fuson talked about the fieldhouse, not that anyone needed to be reminded that it’s the best basketball venue on the planet. And Swarbrick summed it all up with appropriate and moving eloquence.

By the good coincidence of timing, two weeks later, Indianapolis hosted the tournaments. It was an opportunity to demonstrate everything that had been presented. It was also, perhaps, a chance to screw up.

When it comes to sporting events, Indy doesn’t screw up. The tournaments went off with nary a hitch.

And then came the long, long wait for the decision. The Big Ten kept a solid lid on the deliberations. No one knew anything until the telephone call came.

So yes, celebration is in order. As Swarbrick pointed out, while the Big Ten will have its headquarters in Chicago, Indianapolis will be its “gathering place.” For student-athletes on the playing floor-unlike the Chicago bid, the men and women will compete on the same floor. For students at the job fair. For administrators, alumni and fans in the arena and all around town.

This was-again-the best of what Indy can do. It was the efforts of a true “public-private partnership.” It was the bipartisan participation of a Democratic mayor and a Republican governor. It was the contributions of companies and individuals. It was the unprecedented cooperation from the hotels. And, of course, it was the presence of a breathtaking venue, which will soon become even better with the construction of the Legends Club.

My guess is Chicagoans will barely notice the tournaments’ absence. Which makes my point. When the tournaments are in Indy, you can’t help but feel their presence.

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.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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