In 1928, the Butler Bulldogs defeated Notre Dame 21-13. At first glance, you might think that Butler had a darn good football team that year. However, this instead was the score in the first basketball game played in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Today, Butler’s basketball (and volleyball) teams are still playing at Hinkle. At the time it was built, Hinkle Fieldhouse (then known as Butler Fieldhouse) was the largest basketball arena ever built. Today, with a capacity of just over 11,000 it would be described as “intimate” for many major programs.
The thing is Butler isn’t really a “major” program. Moving for the 2012-2013 season from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 was a major step for this “mid-major” basketball program. Recent rumors of a move to a realigned Big East continue to add prestige to the program. However, after appearances in the title game in 2010 and 2011, Butler swiftly became a national power, and the darling of college basketball.
Originally known as Butler Fieldhouse, the facility was renamed in 1966 to honor Paul “Tony” Hinkle, who coached the Butler basketball, football, and baseball teams over a career that spanned from 1926-1970.
A game today at Hinkle Fieldhouse remains as a time machine into an earlier era. Even the modern amenities like the center hung scoreboard and corner scoreboards with individual player information are a bit outdated by today’s standards. But that’s exactly why Butler basketball is such a beautiful thing to see live, and an absolute must pilgrimage for college basketball junkies and arena travelers. Currently, Hinkle Fieldhouse is the 6th oldest college basketball arena still in use (Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym is the oldest).
Basketball in the state of Indiana is always special, but there is no better venue in the Hoosier state than Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University.
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There isn't too much to excite fans when it comes to the food and beverage offered inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. Although, there is the chance to buy a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which may be exciting to lovers of fried chicken. Otherwise, most of the concessions offer the basics.
Penn Station subs are available ($5.50), along with nachos ($4.25 or deluxe for $5.25), chili cheese dog ($4.75), hot dog ($4), pizza slice ($4), or stuffed pretzel ($4). All are priced a little bit above the average compared to what you will find in most college basketball arenas.
If you just want a snack, then peanuts ($4), Cracker Jacks ($3.75), popcorn ($3.50), candy ($3), and chips ($2) are on hand.
Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice with regular sizes costing $3.50, and "stadium" drink sizes going for $5.50. Refills of the Stadium size are only $1. If you need that much soda, you may want to seek professional assistance. Bottled water ($3.50) and coffee ($3) are also on hand. Like many college venues, alcohol is not served at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
When you arrive at the Butler campus, it isn't difficult to find Hinkle Fieldhouse. The great big brick barn-like structure is easy to spot, and your heartbeat will likely quicken if you're a fan of college basketball. Walking inside is like stepping back in time. The narrow concourse opens at the corners to the floor, and you may feel like Coach Norman Dale, leading his Hickory squad into the cavernous championship arena.
The seating set up inside Hinkle Fieldhouse consists of 16 rows of seats with chairbacks followed by wooden bleachers. Behind each basket, there is seating for the student section, known as the Dawg Pound. The pep band is located behind the basket nearest the opponent's bench, and is an excellent example of what a pep band can do to help make college basketball really exciting.
Pregame introductions are a lot of fun as the Butler starters leap off the bench, high five their teammates, and then pet the live bulldog mascot, Butler Blue III (who became the third live bulldog to serve as the school's mascot in March of 2013). It's a pretty unique and fun sight.
The scoreboard is center-hung with basic information displayed including score, time, period, team fouls, and individual fouls. In opposite corners, along the face of the balcony, you'll find an additional scoreboard which also displays the numbers of the players on the floor as well as their points and personal fouls.
Overall, the thrill of the atmosphere is this great old building. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark back in 1987. There's a distinctive thud of the basketball that reverberates throughout the arena, with its rounded interior. Games played in the daytime provide an extra aesthetic touch as light passes through the windows high above the floor.
Butler University is located about six miles north of downtown Indianapolis. There are plenty of good bars and restaurants in the immediate neighborhood, and fans may enjoy parking some ways away and walking the narrow sidewalks toward Hinkle.
On my most recent visit, I made a stop into Twenty Tap, a great bar for beer lovers which also serves delicious and somewhat inventive cuisine. Despite the name, they actually have 38 beers on tap most nights, and will occasionally do thematic beer nights with a particular bottler or type of beer featured. Their burgers are also particularly good, and they have a nice selection of appetizers as well.
Café Patachou is also a place I can recommend, with excellent sandwiches, and even better breakfast or brunch. Along College Avenue you'll find Taste Café (breakfast or lunch), the newly remodeled Aristocrat Pub (somewhat eclectic menu with burgers, pasta, and British cuisine), and student hangout Moe & Johnny's.
While in Indianapolis, you should also consider seeing some of the other great venues that the best sports city in the United States has to offer. Bankers Life Fieldhouse is a wonderful option throughout the Butler basketball season. If you make the trip in November, then you may be able to see a Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium, which Stadium Journey Magazine rated as the best venue in sports in both 2011 and 2012. Even Butler's football experience at the Butler Bowl is worthy of your time.
Additionally, Indianapolis has one of the best children's museums in the country and a nice zoo as well. So if you are traveling with your family, then there are plenty of things for the kids to do.
There are two small student sections, one behind each basket. The largest section is behind the basket nearest the Butler bench. On the other end there is a smaller student section, buttressed by the Butler Pep Band. The main student section is known as the "Dawg Pound" and the students represent their school and team well.
Alumni and other fans are ardently engaged in the game. You won't hear idle chit chat amongst the patrons of this game. Instead, expect to hear intelligent and passionate cheering of their team, and chiding of referees who make bad calls. Not just calls that go against the Bulldogs, but actual wrong or at least questionable calls. Butler fans as a whole are some of the most intelligent in all of college hoops.
Parking is free, whether you park in the main lot or one of the residential streets surrounding the Fieldhouse. Despite its age, and narrow concourses, you can leave or enter efficiently as they have several entrances and even more exits when the game ends. I was able to go from seat to being on the road in 10 minutes, and that included a quick trip to the bathroom.
You may find lines for the restrooms, but this is just a minor inconvenience for the opportunity to see a game at this historic venue. You may consider sneaking out a couple minutes early at halftime if you don't have the patience to wait in line.
Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of those places, that even if tickets are exorbitantly high, you are still going to get your money's worth. You may be surprised that there are usually tickets available for Butler home games. You could sit in the "High Five" section and have a wonderful view of all of the elements of this great old venue. I've also attended games and paid only $30 on the secondary market for Lower Level seats. The point is, pick out where you want to sit, and pay the price. It will be money well spent.
When you factor in the parking, and the reasonable concessions, then there is no doubt that you will see a very high return on your investment.
Banners hang in Hinkle Fieldhouse to commemorate Butler's recent back-to-back appearances in the National Champion game in 2010 and 2011. Butler also hangs banners for their two National Championships which came before the tournament era, 1924 and 1929. The effect adds even more history to the Fieldhouse.
A second point is awarded for the tie-in that this arena has with the movie Hoosiers. The film is undoubtedly one of the best sports movies of all times, and I would highly recommend watching it the night before you make the trip to Hinkle.
I really enjoy the pre-game introductions with the inclusion of the live bulldog to greet the starters. It is one of the few, if not the only, college basketball environment which includes a live mascot in the pre-game festivities.
The fans are also worthy of extra marks. They are truly some of the most intelligent basketball fans in the country.
Finally, something extra for those goose bumps that you'll get inside of Hinkle Fieldhouse.
If you are a college basketball fan, and you haven't been to Hinkle Fieldhouse, I would plead with you to make the trip as soon as you can. Look at the schedule and make your plans. You will love every second that you get to spend inside historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
When Hinkle Fieldhouse (then known as Butler Fieldhouse) opened in 1928, it was the largest basketball arena ever built. With a capacity of just over 11,000 it seems cozy by today's standards.
It doesn't get much better than basketball in the state of Indiana, and a trip to Hinkle may be the best way to experience that tradition.
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