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SPORTS: These are the most valuable players on our team

October 15, 2007

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning made news recently when Business Week ranked him 13th among the 100 most-powerful people in sports.

Not to be outdone, or to let a good idea go unstolen, here's my list of the 25 most- influential people in Indianapolis sports.

Criteria: my opinion.

No. 1: Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George. With three races (including next September's Moto GP motorcycle debut) bringing in more than $700 million annually, IMS is the elephant in the room that requires relative peanuts from local public resources.

No. 2: NCAA President Myles Brand. Many would cite the NCAA's financial impact, especially with the guarantee of future men's and women's Final Fours and other events. That will have enormous benefit for the city. But Brand, with nothing more than a bully pulpit at his disposal, also has made tremendous strides in raising academic standards.

No. 3: Colts owner Jim Irsay. If anything, losing that Super Bowl bid by only a 17-15 vote when Dallas had $25 million more on the table underscores Irsay's influence. Now if only he can extend that influence to convince his peers to bring the 2012 Super Bowl here.

No. 4: Pacers co-owner Herb Simon. With due respect to his brother, Mel, Herb has lobbied tirelessly behind the scenes to try to level the NBA landscape for the small markets.

No. 5: Colts President Bill Polian. Hey, Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf. But that's just his best move. There are scores of others. Polian is virtually without peer in the NFL both as a personnel guru and as a policymaker through his work on the NFL's competition committee.

No. 6: Colts coach Tony Dungy. With at least one Super Bowl triumph on his resume, he's headed for the Hall of Fame. But, as an example to African Americans and people of faith, his influence extends far beyond his winning percentage.

No. 7: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. You probably thought I would mention him earlier, like at No. 1. Yes, he's a quarterback with a laser rifle arm and one of American sports' top pitchmen. Locally, his influence and good works are everywhere. But at the end of the day-and this is not intended as a putdown-he's still in labor, not management.

No. 8: Tom Jernstedt, NCAA senior vice president. The power behind the power that is the NCAA in general and, in particular, the golden goose that is the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.

Nos. 9-10: Pacers President Larry Bird and Pacers Sports & Entertainment CEO Donnie Walsh. Oh, they have their critics. But Bird still is Larry Bird, icon. And Walsh should be judged-and commended-for the body of his work over the last 23 years.

No. 11: Kelvin Sampson, Indiana University basketball coach. Yes, this is an Indianapolis list and he coaches in Bloomington. But one, he's the highest-paid public employee in the state. And two, behind the Colts and Pacers, IU basketball remains the city's other major "franchise." Notice I didn't say "pro."

No. 12: Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. More discipline off the court and less discipline on the court I hope will be a winning combination that brings fans back to the Fieldhouse.

No. 13: Greg Shaheen, NCAA vice president. This local-boy-makes-good now pretty much runs/directs/commands the Men's Final Four and all its ancillary activities. 'Nuf said.

No. 14: Jack Swarbrick, Baker & Daniels attorney. The former chairman of Indiana Sports Corp. continues to play a significant role, most recently on the Super Bowl and Big Ten tournament bids.

No. 15: Jon LeCrone, Horizon League commissioner. Sure, the HL does not wield Big Ten kind of clout, but as a member of the prestigious Division I men's basketball committee, LeCrone is a player at the highest levels of collegiate administration.

Nos. 16-17: Our Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, and our Democratic mayor, Bart Peterson. If the politicos don't endorse sports, well, for starters, there's no Lucas Oil Stadium.

No. 18: Fred Glass, Capital Improvement Board president. Three words: Lucas Oil Stadium. Four more words: another Super Bowl bid.

No. 19: Indianapolis Indians CEO Max Schumacher. Steward of one of America's best-run minor-league franchises, Max's national respect in baseball circles was recognized with the awarding of the 2009 baseball winter meetings to Indy.

Nos. 20-21-22: CEOs Craig Masbach of USA Track & Field, Steve Penny of USA Gymnastics, and Debbie Hesse of USA Diving are in charge of three big-time Olympic sports.

No. 23: Rick Fuson, Conseco Fieldhouse executive director. Fuson willed the successful bid to bring the Big Ten tournaments here for the next five years.

No. 24: Susan Williams, Indiana Sports Corp. president. ISC's relationships with the Big Ten, NCAA and the national governing bodies are vital.

No. 25: Floyd Keith, Black Coaches Association executive director. Tireless advocate for minority hiring in both college and professional circles.



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, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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