You Can Fix Hinkle FieldHouse, But Don’t Ruin It…Posted by Chris Johnson on May 29th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Trying to toe the balance of preserving sports arenas’ quaint historical charm while ensuring things stay modern and cutting-edge enough to keep up with the day’s practical standards for an enjoyable game day experience is a tricky calculus. Fans love tradition. They admire the architectural vestiges of a bygone era. The Wrigley Field Ivy. The Green Monster at Fenway Park. Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame Stadium. These traditional sports landmarks wouldn’t be the same without their share of antiquated and sometimes outmoded quirks. Embracing the modern age and installing Wi-Fi hotspots and turning your basketball arena into whatever this thing is, are all prudent and progressive moves, and it’s hard not to sympathize with head-scratching sports arena designers finding it harder and harder to lure fans away from their comfy home viewing confines. The modern HD flat-screen viewing experience, accompanied by a soft recliner with 45 different back reclining angles, your multi-purpose social media device of choice, in-sight kitchen convenience, free food and an unoccupied bathroom and most of all, reduced costs, are tremendously difficult to resist. Traffic stinks. Twelve-dollar popcorn tastes just as mediocre as microwave-brand bags. That screaming buffoon spilling Budweiser on your lap is really starting to bug you. I concur. I mean, even the hegemonically dominant NFL is struggling to fill the seats of its wildly popular teams’ state-of-the-art arenas.
Some sports venues are better left untouched. Their distinctive visual features makes them what they are, and any radical changes would violate the essence of their lasting attraction. They are perfect just the way they are. Gradual attendance drain isn’t an existentially dizzying structural concern, like the NFL, because fans pony up ticket money and fill seats — being there, literally, beats being there through your pixelated mini Ipad retina display no matter how you measure the costs of attendance. If you’re a college basketball fan – and if you’re reading this page, what are the chances you aren’t? – the one thought rattling through your parietal lobe when you hear the words “renovations” and “Hinkle Fieldhouse” in the same sentence is nothing positive, or even nominally encouraging. You’re downright disappointed — turn Hinkle into a sterilized, plastic, artificial husk of corporatism? How could they?!
I, soothsayer, am here to inform you only half of that statement is actually true. Hinkle is indeed being renovated, but the broadest interpretation of the changes, God forbid, can be boiled down to minor and mostly internal tweaks. Tune-ups. Simple house-cleaning that needed to get done – just enough modern polish to keep Hinkle’s natural charm without sacrificing its trademark beauty. The renovations will cost $34 million, and are expected to be in place for the start of the 2014-15 season. The Indianapolis Star dropped the news last week, and the details offer much-needed comfort to any college basketball fan with an authentic hoops-loving heart.
Beginning in the 2014-15 season, the fieldhouse will have wider concourses, 5,000 chairbacks, more handicapped seating, handrails and new bathrooms. Capacity will be about 9,100, less than the current 10,000 but more than previous estimates.
I’ll admit it – I was scared, too. Is there any other viable emotional response to the prospect of seeing Butler’s historic hoops fortress completely made over? I don’t know about you, but watching Hinkle undergo significant structural changes, seeing Butler get all cute with its new Big East membership and break away from its rich college basketball roots, would feel wrong or dishonorable or stylishly yucky. I don’t know. College basketball creeps further into a professionalized live-viewing standard each and every season, with more non-conference events at football domes and neutral site games at NBA arenas popping up every day. We see less evidence of historical viewing appeal – little gyms and old school bleachers and cozy court placement, and so on – and more contemporary stadium muck year after year. Were the trend to cross over onto college basketball’s enclosed kingdom of hoops purity, it wouldn’t just be sad. It would sting on a deeper level. It would taint my formative college basketball livelihood. Yes, I’m being completely melodramatic, but the basic point still stands: Hinkle is perfect just the way it is. If you tweak it, leave it there and stop. Tweaks.
People will bring up recruiting arms races and the need to stay current and OK, maybe today’s 17 year-old high school stars don’t care for Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood and Hickory, about the tradition, about how unfathomably awesome a College Gameday court-rushing against No. 8 Gonzaga can look and sound. It’s just one of those things where, whatever you do, just don’t touch it. Hinkle needed a few upgrades here and there, and I’m cool with that – bigger bathrooms are, ahem, important, wider hallways are more efficient, and more comfortable seats are welcome changes – just don’t take it any further. Promise?