BENNER: NCAA move keeps paying dividends for Indiana

August 3, 2009

I just thought I’d mention that it was 10 years ago this week when the National Collegiate Athletic Association opened the doors to its new headquarters in White River State Park.

When I’m invited to address civic groups, the story behind the story of the NCAA’s relocation to Indy is one I enjoy relating because it speaks to the can-do attitude that brought our city out of the backwaters.

It was the result of a strategy based on investment, event-hosting, relationship-building, public-private partnership, city-state cooperation and bipartisanship.

In other words, the Indy that in some ways no longer exists … though I hope I’m wrong about that.

The investment was in the facilities—such as Market Square Arena, the natatorium, the track stadium and the Hoosier Dome—that enabled Indianapolis to begin bidding for and landing NCAA championship events. From 1983 to 1997, when the relocation announcement took place, Indy hosted 32 Division I championship events, more than any other city.

That reinforced with NCAA officials, especially then-president Ced Dempsey, that the city valued intercollegiate athletics and amateur sports.

Hosting those NCAA events strengthened the relationships between the city’s sports leaders and NCAA staff, which in turn enabled Indianapolis to offer a proven track record to distinguish itself from some very tough competitors as the NCAA considered relocating or staying put in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan.

An initial list of more than 50 cities was trimmed to 20, then to 10, and then to four—Kansas City, Dallas, Denver and Indianapolis.

And speaking of a final four, it certainly didn’t hurt that Indianapolis hosted an enormously successful Final Four in March of 1997, just two months before the NCAA made its decision.

The public-private partnership and bipartisan support came to the fore when Indianapolis presented its bid, orchestrated by then Indiana Sports Corp. Board Chairman (and now Notre Dame Athletic Director) Jack Swarbrick and ISC President Dale Neuburger. The state (led by Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon), the city (led by Republican Mayor Stephen Goldsmith) and the private sector (led by businessmen Randall Tobias, Jim Morris and Bill Mays) produced $50 million to build those facilities if the NCAA chose Indianapolis.

Which it did. The announcement came on May 31, 1997. On July 22, 1999, staff began moving into the new headquarters at WRSP. The first full day of occupancy was Aug. 2, 1999. The following spring, just in time for the 2000 Final Four, the Hall of Champions opened. And in the interim, the National Federation of State High School Associations also moved from Kansas City to a building adjacent to the NCAA headquarters.

A 2004 study estimated the NCAA move generated an economic impact of $63 million annually for the state of Indiana. Five years later, that number is certain to have grown just as the NCAA staff has grown from about 250 to nearly 500. Its original pledge to have 50 percent of its meetings here has increased to about 75 percent.

Of course, the largest impact came from the NCAA’s memorandum of understanding with the city and ISC to bring men’s and women’s Final Fours, men’s and women’s basketball regionals and the association’s annual convention to the city on a recurring basis through 2039 as long as the city continues to meet bid requirements.

The NCAA also is bringing more events, including the Division II golf championships to the Sagamore Club in Noblesville and the Division I cross-country championships to Indiana State University.

“There’s no way to adequately quantify the benefit of having the NCAA in Indianapolis,” says Morris, now the CEO of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, citing the frequent exposure to college presidents, administrators, coaches, student-athletes, media and event spectators. “It is the crown jewel of our amateur sports initiative.”

“We had high expectations when the decision was made,” says NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt, who has been with the association since 1973 and played a key role on the relocation committee.

“As I look back now, all our expectations have been met and exceeded.”

Truly a win-win.•


Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention and 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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