(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indy’s bid to host the NIT Final Four centers on an arena you might not expect.
This week’s NIT Final Four marks the return of the event to New York’s Madison Square Garden, after the pandemic canceled the tournament in 2020 and moved the entire tourney to Texas in 2021. But the NCAA, which owns the tournament, is seeking bids to play the finals elsewhere the next two years. Indy is among the confirmed bidders, with a proposal to bring the tournament to Butler’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Indy has hosted the NCAA Final Four eight times — three at Lucas Oil Stadium, four at the R-C-A Dome and one at Market Square Arena. The women’s Final Four has been at Gainbridge Fieldhouse twice and the R-C-A Dome. In contrast, Hinkle seats about 9,000 fans, half the capacity of Madison Square Garden.
Indiana Sports Corp president Ryan Vaughn says the intimate feel of Hinkle is one of the its selling points. In 2019, the last time Madison Square Garden hosted the NIT, attendance was about 4,000, 20% of the arena’s capacity. With fans closer together and Hinkle’s fan-friendly sight lines, Vaughn says it would be a more exciting atmosphere for the Final Four.
Hinkle hosted games in the first three rounds of last year’s NCAA tournament, when the pandemic moved the entire tournament to Indiana. Vaughn says the tourney was a reminder of the national visibility the tournament can provide to both the city and Butler.
The 94-year-old fieldhouse is one of the oldest college basketball arenas still in use. Last year’s NCAA tournament was the first time the tourney had been played there since 1940. But Hinkle hosted Indiana’s state high school championship for 43 years, ending in 1971, and played itself in the climactic scene of the movie “Hoosiers,” based on Milan’s underdog run to the 1954 championship at Hinkle.
Vaughn says the Sports Corp has assisted with staffing and the scouting of prospective teams since the NCAA took over the NIT. He says between that work and Indy’s long history of hosting the NCAA, the organization knows and trusts Indy as a host city.
Vaughn says it’s likely to be a few months before a decision.
Except for last year’s pandemic bubble, Madison Square Garden has hosted every NIT championship since the tournament’s founding in 1938.