The Daily Reformer
INDIANAPOLIS — Before this month, it had been 81 years since Hinkle Fieldhouse had hosted an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game on the Butler University campus.
After Sunday night’s last Sweet 16 game, no one will hazard a guess when March Madness may return.
“It’s the first time that we’ve been able to host an NCAA Tournament game at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1940 and it may be the last time,” said Butler University Director of Strategic Communications Mark Apple. “I don’t think we’ll ever have circumstances like this again.”
That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic and the public restrictions that resulted may never happen again and next year the NCAA Tournament is likely to return to its nationwide series of regional games.
Hinkle’s participation was key to the NCAA’s decision to stage all 67 games of the Big Dance from West Lafayette to Bloomington, but with most games played in Marion County at Butler, the Indiana Farmers Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium.
“When we were first approached about hosting the games we were a little bit nervous because we’ve done a great job of really locking down our campus and making sure we didn’t get cases of coronavirus inside our bubble,” said Apple. “We really felt confident and comfortable they were going to be able to pull this off without any major outbreak.”
Hinkle hosted 16 games over the course of six days.
“We’ve received a tremendous amount of publicity,” said Apple. “We’ve been able to elevate Butler’s national stature just through over $200 million in advertising equivalency in coverage throughout the month of March.
“The reception that we’ve received for Hinkle Fieldhouse from fans and from the media across the country has been outstanding. People are so excited to come watch a game at Hinkle. It’s been the toughest ticket to get in town regardless of who’s playing there because people just want to see a game played at that venue.”
Gonzaga fans leaving Hinkle Sunday afternoon were thrilled both by the Bulldogs’ win over Creighton and the chance to see a Tournament game at the storied fieldhouse.
“Its pretty cool,” said Rich Mast. “I noted in the west we don’t see a lot of these structures that hang around as long as we do back here in the Midwest and the east.”
“Its amazing,” said Doug Parker. “It reminds me of Fenway or Wrigley and it’s got nostalgia out every pore.
“It’s a thrill just to be in the building.”
An even bigger thrill for fans is knowing that they’re watching a game not only in the building where the movie “Hoosiers” was filmed but was also the site for the historic Milan ’54 state championship game.
“The fact that ‘Hoosiers’ was filmed here has been a big draw for people for sure,” said Apple. “Everybody wants to come in and get their picture taken even outside, if they can’t get inside, just because of the link to the movie.”