EDITORIAL: Indiana Sports Corp. offers bold plan to create college basketball bubble

Through the pandemic, we have urged the region’s government, community and business leaders to use this uncertain time to act boldly, to think beyond the now and plan for later.

It’s why we lauded Mayor Joe Hogsett for pushing forward with plans to redevelop Pan Am Plaza with hotels and an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center that could set the city up for growth when (and we believe the word to use is “when,” not “if”) conventions and sports events return.

It’s why we produced a short-run podcast series that focused on topics like using a 90-day sprint to prepare for life after COVID and how to use the crisis to hone your leadership skills for the future.

And it’s why we are so enthusiastic about the Indiana Sports Corp.’s smart plan to create a virus-free bubble at the Indiana Convention Center for college basketball games.

What makes the group’s plan so audacious is that it’s not just offering to host a game or two. It’s telling colleges and associations: “Hey, we can host your entire conference season here in Indianapolis. We can host your holiday tournament or your conference tournament or your invitational. We can actually host more than one tournament at a time!”

The idea is that participating schools would administer COVID-19 tests—either provided by the Indiana Sports Corp. or through their own health care partners—to students, coaches and staff before traveling to Indianapolis. Then, after arriving, the teams would be tested again. Once cleared, they would enter the “bubble,” which would include the convention center and attached hotels.

That sounds simple enough—but it’s not. To make this idea feasible, the Indiana Sports Corp. had to source basketball courts, lots of them, that would be set up in convention hall space for both practices and games. It had to develop plans to turn meeting rooms into locker rooms and fitness centers. It had to figure out the logistics for broadcasting the games.

What made it possible is that—when faced with the pandemic, the cancellation of events it had been planning for years, and projected revenue shortfalls—the group’s leaders did not lay off staff and hunker down, as sports commissions in some other cities did. Instead, the Indiana Sports Corp. doubled down on its mission to boost the local economy with sports.

It got to work bidding on dozens of events for future years and developing the proposal for a bubble.

Now, Sports Corp. leaders are waiting to learn whether any schools or conferences will take them up on the idea. President Ryan Vaughn, who was the guest on this week’s IBJ Podcast, said there has been plenty of interest, but it will likely be another week or two before schools decide how they’ll handle their basketball seasons.

We hope at least a few of them take the Indiana Sports Corp. up on its offer. It would be good for downtown, good for the hospitality industry and certainly good for our collective psyche.

But even if there are no takers, we applaud the Sports Corp.’s creativity and determination—and the good example they’re setting for the rest of us.•

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