When one thinks of Butler Bulldogs athletics, it is natural to conjure up images of the basketball program. Whether it’s an image from the movie Hoosiers, the recent success of the basketball team in the NCAA tournament, or historic Hinkle Fieldhouse itself, this is a school (and a state) known first and foremost for its hoops.
However, the Butler Bowl, home to Bulldogs football on Saturdays has quite a bit of history to offer as well. With recent upgrades to the small stadium, there is a wonderful little gameday experience to be had on the north side of Indianapolis.
Butler is a member of the Pioneer Football League, an FCS conference with teams spread from California to Florida to New York. Butler is one of the founding members of this conference which was born in 1991. The team can claim two championships as members of the Pioneer Football League (1994 & 2009). Previously, Butler has won 21 other conference championships as members of various leagues over the years. This includes seven consecutive conference championships (1958-1964) as members of the Indiana Collegiate Conference under head coach Tony Hinkle (yes, the namesake of Hinkle Fieldhouse).
While there is little to be blown away by at the Butler Bowl, a pleasant autumn Saturday afternoon can be spent at this wonderful little football stadium.
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There are a couple of twists to a traditional football stadium menu, but overall it's a pretty standard offering. The main concession stand has burgers ($5) and Penn Station subs ($5.50). The burgers are made fresh, not from frozen patties and are cooked in front of you. I asked for a little nacho cheese on top and was accommodated. Other choices include chili cheese dog ($4.75), hot dog ($4), nachos ($4.25), and soft pretzel ($3.50). By and large, the food is a bit overpriced, but is of an overall better than average quality.
Pepsi is the soft drink available with 22-ounce ($3.50) and 32-ounce ($4.25) sizes available. Bottled water is also available ($3.50). There is no alcohol available at the Butler Bowl, consistent with most collegiate events.
A small Chick-fil-A stand can be found along the main concourse. Chicken sandwiches are kept in an insulated bag, but it looked as if there was just the one, so you'll want to get one as early as possible if that's where your taste buds lead you.
The Bulldogs have been playing their home games at the Butler Bowl since 1928. The facility you see today looks shiny and new though, due to major renovations in 2006 and 2010. Most of the seating can be found on west side of the field, including an impressive new press box and the "Champions Room." Almost all seats are metal bleachers with the exception of the last five rows in sections 4 and 5, which are blue plastic seats with below average leg room and cupholders.
The experience really begins when you arrive in the parking lot near historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. If you're fan of college basketball, just being near this great old structure will give you goosebumps. There's plenty of tailgating happening here, even several hours before kickoff.
The stadium is available for entry an hour before kickoff. The band will already be present, with the drum corps warming up in the northeast corner of the concourse. Eventually the band will march from the east side of the stadium to Hinkle Fieldhouse, chanting, "Where my dawgs at?"
If you have kids with you, consider walking down the berm and over to the tunnel to see the band emerge, followed by the real bulldog mascots, and finally the team. It feels like a behind the scenes view, but is accessible to anyone with a ticket, and the kids will love it.
The east side of the stadium is where you'll find the band and also the visitor seating section. Here you'll also find metal bleachers. Walk further toward the southeast corner, and you'll find a great spot to stand and watch the game. With a view of the pressbox and Hinkle Fieldhouse in the background, this is a picturesque view of college football.
The scoreboard is very basic and located in the north end zone.
The Butler Bowl is a turf field, and is also home to the Butler men's and women's soccer teams, so you'll see some additional lines on the field for the convenience of those squads.
Not far from the large and historic homes located along Meridian Street on the north side of Indianapolis is where you'll find Butler University. Most of the athletic facilities are clustered together, with the entrance to the Hinkle Fieldhouse parking lot found off of 49th Street.
It's about a half mile walk to Café Patachou on the corner of 49th and Pennsylvania. This is a great spot to grab some late breakfast before an early afternoon kickoff. They serve excellent Bloody Mary's, eggs and other comforting breakfast items. I tried the cheese and grits, which was a little soupy, but tasty.
If you continue a little further, to College Avenue, you can find several other good spots. If you want some great coffee and good breakfast, then Taste Café would be a good choice. Moe & Johnny's is another classic Butler hangout, with plenty of TVs to stay on top of other college football games of interest. Both locations are about a mile and a half from the Butler Bowl, so probably will require a drive unless you are feeling ambitious.
The surprising part about the fans at a Butler football game is there no real student section. In fact, I saw very few students at all during my most recent visit. That aside, the fan support is still there, it's just not an infectious and rowdy crowd like what you will find at a Butler basketball game.
The marching band is above average and does their part to help rally the crowd. The cheerleaders are loud and talented, helping to elevate the overall fan experience at the Butler Bowl.
Parking will cost you $8 in the large lot near the Butler Bowl. In actuality, there is no reason to pay for the lot unless you plan on tailgating. There is plenty of free street parking within reasonable distance to the stadium. Look first along 49th Street, then consider Boulevard Place, which is just a couple blocks of walking away.
Inside the Butler Bowl, the concourses are very wide, and you can move about with ease. A stop at the concession stand won't rob you of any of the game action as there is still a view of the field. Restrooms are located inside the basketball arena, which may seem like a hassle until you remember any excuse to get inside Hinkle Fieldhouse is a good excuse. With the lights out in the gym, you can't help but conjure up images of the Hoosiers walking into the gym before the championship game. I had an irresistible urge to go and measure the height of the basket, or the distance to the free throw line.
Reserve seats, which entitle you to one of the spots with the chairback seats will cost you $20. It's only $12 for the general admission seating. For me, it's worth the extra $8 to have a spot at the 50 yard line, in a comfortable chair. If you have long legs, you may opt to go for a bleacher seat, but ultimately this is a personal choice. You may also consider bringing a folding chair or a blanket and sitting on the berm for a relaxed view of the game. There are discounts for groups of 15 or more, and for all kids aged 3-12.
Parking may be a little more than I would care to pay for an FCS game, but that can be mitigated by parking on the street. Concessions are a little pricey to comparable venues, but the quality is also better than expected. Overall, they are right on the edge when it comes to pricing, but I think I would pay even slightly more for the overall experience at a Butler football game.
If you've read every word of this review, then it is clear that I have a bit of a stadium crush on Hinkle Fieldhouse, and it's worth an extra point here.
Another extra point for the friendliness of the staff that I encountered throughout. From the team store to the ticket takers to the concessionaires, everyone was extremely friendly, and visiting fans will feel welcomed at this venue.
A final extra point for the city of Indianapolis, the best sports town when it comes to overall venue experience, in the United States. If you're lucky, the schedules will match up and you can see a Butler football game on Saturday, and then visit the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the Butler Bowl, and will certainly return someday down the road. The mix of history, modern amenities, and a great overall collegiate atmosphere leave fans feeling as if they got all that they paid for plus a little more. If you're making a trip to Indy, check the Butler football schedule for a home date.
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