BENNER: List of best sports palaces had just one Hoosier entry

March 3, 2012

The subject is sports venues and I’ve been fortunate in my life to venture to many in the United States and around the globe.

But none is so near and dear to my Hoosier heart than Hinkle Fieldhouse.

I have written/said it before, and I will write it/say it again. But, recently, as I settled into my seat in a sold-out Hinkle for a Saturday afternoon game pitting Butler University against Indiana State University, I was reminded that there are few venues in any sport anywhere that can match the magical allure of Hinkle when the sun glistens off that maple hardwood.

During the Super Bowl, with Butler playing two home games that week, a number of national and international journalists made the trek to the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood for a first-time look at a place they had seen only on television or, most notably, in the movie “Hoosiers.”

Asked about their experience afterward, most provided a one-word answer: Wow.

The task now facing officials at Butler is to maintain that historic, tradition-laden ambiance as they take on a $25 million renovation that will be done in phases over the next several years.

Much of the work will be back-of-the-house things—plumbing, heating, electrical, office space, expanded weight and locker rooms—that spectators won’t see. Eventually, however, there will be some modern trappings added, including more chair-backs to replace bleachers, and, of course, video screens.

Seating capacity (currently 10,000) will drop slightly but shouldn’t hurt Butler’s bottom line. While the Bulldogs drew 7,202 per game this year, their highest in nearly 50 years, only two games (Detroit and Indiana State) sold out.

I’m confident that Butler will add in the modern necessities without sacrificing the character of the building. I just want to be able to bring my grandson there in a few years and have him enjoy the same feel for the fieldhouse as the old, old man.

What inspired this theme, in addition to my recent visit to Hinkle, was a story recently forwarded to me titled, “50 Sports Venues To Visit Before You Die.”

It was written by a fellow named Zack Pumerantz for BleacherReport.com.

It was a worldwide listing of sporting venues and Hinkle was ranked 27th. The only other on-campus basketball facility listed was Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (ranked 39th).

Pretty cool, I thought.

But there was a glaring omission. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not included, even though two racing facilities (Talladega Speedway, in Alabama) and some Formula One course in the United Arab Emirates, were.

Are you kidding me?

The list, in fact, was way too internationally dominated for this Yank’s liking. Indeed, nearly half the venues were soccer, rugby and cricket stadiums.

There was another Hoosier slight: Two NBA venues made the rankings and neither was Bankers Life Fieldhouse. One was the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the other was Madison Square Garden in New York.

I once said that the only things with more plastic and artificial feel to them than Staples are the celebrity spectators who inhabit the place.

And MSG, if it weren’t in NYC, would be considered a DUMP, in my humble opinion.

Pumerantz, to his credit, did have Green Bay’s Lambeau Field as the overall No. 1 sports venue you must visit before you die, and I don’t disagree with that. Like Hinkle, a visit to Lambeau is a visit to the Mecca.

Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Baltimore’s Camden Yards topped the list of baseball venues. Ohio Stadium, Michigan Stadium and Notre Dame Stadium were included among college football venues, though noticeably absent was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Then again, maybe the author is an IU fan born after 1968.

In addition to Lambeau, Pumerantz went with Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, Cowboys Stadium and the Superdome in New Orleans as top NFL venues. The NHL had two representatives: Montreal’s Bell Centre and Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.

Tennis (Wimbledon) and horse racing (Churchill Downs) made the list but, to my surprise, there was no golf. Don’t know how Augusta National or the Old Course at St. Andrews would not make the cut.

And since skiing is my passion, how about the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria?

On another note in closing, how many times have you heard coaches and athletes complain that the media who cover them don’t know the game?

For evidence to the contrary, I offer up former longtime Indianapolis Star sportswriter Pat McKee. In his post-journalism life, he turned to coaching. And this week, his Columbus East girls high school basketball team made it to the Indiana 4A finals.

So there’s at least one of us who knows the game.•


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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