Here are local sports headlines to look for in 2009

January 5, 2009
I hope the speculation is wrong but my sense is, indeed, we're at the end of Tony Dungy's coaching career with the Colts, or any other team for that matter. It seems that in his heart, the pull of faith and family are winning the tug of war over the pull of football. If he does decide this is it, well, good for him. He will be leaving on his own terms.

Perhaps not so, however, for Marvin Harrison. Wouldn't it be nice to set aside the business of professional sports in a way that would allow this future Hall of Famer a graceful and timely exit, catching his last passes for the Colts at a salary commensurate with his production? But that isn't the way it works.

As for the Colts, some will tell you that anything short of reaching, and winning, the Super Bowl will represent a huge disappointment that can't be offset by that record sixth straight season with 12-plus wins and seventh consecutive playoff berth. Then again, you shouldn't overlook the amazingly high level of play the Colts have compiled over an extended period in a system designed to reward failure and punish success. For that, thank Bill Polian.

The Pacers had a similar run from 1994 until The Brawl four years ago. Now, despite a rising superstar in Danny Granger, the franchise can't seem to catch--or make--a break. This group is fun to watch ... until the last two minutes. Then you have to cover your eyes. Yet they still can challenge for a playoff spot if--a big if--Mike Dunleavy can return and be productive.

In either case, with salary-cap relief on the way this summer, the Pacers can continue to positively reshape the roster. No matter their record, their worst days are behind them.

2009 marks the beginning of the Fred Glass era as athletics director at Indiana University and the first full year for his former Baker & Daniels law partner Jack Swarbrick as AD at the University of Notre Dame. Both have bought time and another season before making long-term decisions about the futures of football coaches Bill Lynch and Charlie Weis, respectively. IU opens its new Memorial Stadium expansion and already has a guaranteed sellout: Ohio State is back on the schedule Oct. 3 in Bloomington. At Notre Dame, anything less than a BCS bowl will have Swarbrick scanning his Rolodex.

In the meantime, the honeymoon for new Purdue University coach Danny Hope is likely to last until, oh, about midway through the Big Ten season. But dissatisfied Boiler fans have their wish: no Joe Tiller, and no defensive coordinator Brock Spack (now head coach at Illinois State University).

Currently the best Division I football program in Indiana, Ball State University will try to open the New Year with a bowl victory over Tulsa, get Stan Parrish's tenure off to a positive start and hope quarterback Nate Davis doesn't change his mind and bolt to the NFL.

As for basketball, we're seeing the absolute depths of the situation Tom Crean inherited at IU. Next November can't get here fast enough. At Purdue and Butler University, the joy is both in the now and the future for two of the finest young coaches in the country, Matt Painter and Brad Stevens.

In terms of events, the woes facing the auto industry are cause for furrowed brows on West 16th Street. The Indy 500 and the Allstate 400 are sure to survive but perhaps not without pain. That said, with new late-August dates and (presumably) no hurricane remnants, I'm betting the RedBull Indianapolis Moto GP will grow substantially in its second year.

March will be, per usual, madness. With the Big Ten men's and women's tournaments, the high school boys and girls finals, the NCAA Midwest Regional and the Pacers' schedule, Indy will serve up 38 games in the month.

In July, Michael Phelps--you may have heard of him--will lead the field in the U.S. Long Course National Swimming Championships at the IU Natatorium. The first week of August brings the U.S. Senior Open to Crooked Stick with our man Fuzzy Zoeller joining the likes of Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Hale Irwin.

The Hot Stove League will be boiling over in December with the arrival of baseball's major and minor league winter meetings, a tribute to our own Mr. Baseball, Indians CEO Max Schumacher.

Add in the action at O'Reilly Raceway Park, the Circle City Classic, the Indians, the Fever, the Tennis Championships and it looks like another typically atypical year. Good for us.


Benner is 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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