Trudging through the snow-covered sidewalks and passing by rows of American colonials in a picturesque northern Indianapolis neighborhood, I’m starting to wonder if I’m even going in the right direction. Is this really where one of the most historic and, at one time, the largest arena in basketball was supposed to be?
But finally, it emerges — a colossal structure of red brick, cut up by rectangular windows and anchored by arched doorways. The name had yet to come into view, but the building was unmistakable anyway: Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs since the Calvin Coolidge administration.
Tonight, Jan. 2, historic Hinkle will host Penn, which should appreciate the familiar setting in which it finds itself.
From the skylights in the banner-bestrewn rafters to the bleacher seating, to the fans who disappear under dim lighting as they pack the corners of the place, the similarities between the Palestra and Hinkle Fieldhouse couldn’t be more evident.
Both arenas achieve beauty through simplicity. Opened only one year apart — the Palestra in 1927, Hinkle in 1928 — either could take you back to the classic era before three-pointers and shot clocks.
There’s no light show player introductions. No Jumbotron. No booming sound system. Just the game.
Only one feature in Butler’s home seems out of place: the overhead scoreboard. Sure, the need to modernize is understandable to a point, but why not go the route the Palestra went and add unobtrusive video boards behind each basket?
The other major difference is size — Hinkle, which formerly held 15,000, still seats a solid 10,000. The Palestra, though it likely could fit inside Hinkle twice, squeezes 8,722 into its hallowed halls.
And while Hinkle is a phenomenal place to experience a basketball game, by making itself less compact and more comfortable — no, it’s not 90 degrees inside in the middle of winter — it lacks the closeness to the court the Palestra offers all of its spectators.
Quakers fans are literally on top of the action — those in the first row of the student section sit with their feet on the floor only a few feet from the baseline. And the arena is loud.
Hinkle gets the amplitude up there too, especially when Roosevelt Jones puts his team up 11 with a coast-to-coast steal and ensuing layup. But the 6,406 would’ve been that much more deafening if packed one on top of another on 33rd Street.
So sure, Hinkle’s won me over. I’d be happy to call it home. And I’d definitely take its 17th-ranked, tourney-bound squad.
But I’ll stick with the Cathedral — its sauna-like atmosphere, its seats that face the opposing wall instead of the court and even its 2-12 team. It has hosted more college basketball games than any other arena in the nation for a reason.
MIKE WISNIEWSKI is a senior classical studies major from Philadelphia and is sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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