The University of Notre Dame's baseball team will not return to play this spring at Victory Field for a third straight year.
But Indiana University will. And it will have a new in-state collegiate foe on the diamond.
Over the last two springs, the Hoosiers and Irish have squared off at Indy’s downtown ballpark and drawn crowds that far exceeded event organizers' expectations
In 2015, the IU-Notre Dame game at 14,230-seat Victory Field drew more than 8,700, and last year—despite terrible weather—the game drew nearly 6,700. That’s far more than either team draws at its home venue. IU and Notre Dame's ballparks each seat 2,500.
“It had become a very popular event for alums from both schools,” IU Athletic Director Fred Glass told IBJ late last year. “It had become a great sporting event and a great [business] networking event.”
And it was an event that IU officials wanted to see continue. While it wasn’t a big moneymaker, it certainly didn’t cost the schools any money. The Indianapolis Indians, the AAA minor league team that operates Victory Field, paid to run the game. It also covered part of the schools’ travel expenses and gave them a cut of ticket revenue.
But Notre Dame officials said their schedule wouldn’t allow the game this year. Travel for a weeknight game became difficult for Notre Dame, and scheduling a weekend game for all three parties (IU, Notre Dame and the Indians) is difficult during the busy spring season.
“Three hours down and three hours back on a school night was tough for Notre Dame,” said Randy Lewandowski, Indians president and general manager. “It was just a challenge for them from a travel situation, getting back to South Bend at 2 a.m. and then having the players get up to go to class the next morning.”
The feedback from both schools and their fans about the game here has been “tremendous,” Lewandowski said, adding that Notre Dame has expressed interest in resuming the game against IU at Victory Field in 2018 and/or 2019.
In the meantime, Ball State University has agreed to play IU at Victory Field on April 25, the Indians told IBJ on Tuesday.
Lewandowski expects a strong crowd. He’s hoping the game’s attendance will match last year’s IU-Notre Dame contest. He said his sales staff is working hard selling group tickets and sponsorship packages for the game. So far, the feedback has been “strong.”
“We’re very bullish on continuing to bring a big-time college baseball game to Victory Field,” Lewandowski said. “It’s a great opportunity for all parties involved. It allows us to showcase our venue to a different audience and it allows the schools to play in the best ballpark in the state and to bring their teams to many of their fans [in Indianapolis].”
IU, Ball State and Notre Dame all play on artificial turf at their home venues, as opposed to the natural turf at Victory Field.
“With our field and the way it’s taken care of and with the city skyline as the backdrop, Victory Field is much like playing in a Major League ballpark,” Lewandowski said. “We love to let the school’s [teams and fans] experience that unique atmosphere.”
So why hasn’t Purdue been invited to the party?
Lewandowski explained that IU started pushing for the game at Victory Field about three years ago, so it only makes sense that the Hoosiers would be involved. And scheduling a conference game (between IU and Purdue) would be far too difficult, Lewandowski said. Conference games are usually played in two- and three-game series over the weekend.
Besides that, “No one wants to give up home field for a neutral site for a conference game,” Lewandowski added.