Examining the cathedral of basketball: Hinkle Fieldhouse

Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs, opened in 1928. DePaul men’s basketball traveled there Saturday to face the Bulldogs. (Colin Sallee / The DePaulia)
Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs, opened in 1928. DePaul men’s basketball traveled there Saturday to face the Bulldogs. (Colin Sallee / The DePaulia)

INDIANAPOLIS — In basketball, you cannot always rely on your team’s energy to get through a grueling 40-minute contest. When you play in a conference like the Big East, one that’s rich in athletic history and mystique, you’re fortunate enough to compete in some of the more storied basketball arenas in the country.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs basketball teams, is arguably one of the most well-known sports venues in the country. DePaul men’s basketball felt the historic atmosphere Saturday when they lost 83-73 to the No. 22 Bulldogs.

Indiana, which is known as one of the more traditional powers in the country as far as basketball is concerned, has built much of that legend through Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The cathedral-like arena was constructed in 1928, and was the largest arena in the country at the time — holding almost 15,000 fans at one time.

The first sporting event was held on March 7, 1928 with a 21-13 Butler victory over Notre Dame. The two teams even needed an overtime period to settle the inaugural contest.

The university had a deal with IHSAA (Indiana High school Athletic Association), which gave young, local players and their families a chance to experience basketball on a large stage. This deal would be in place until 1971 and was instrumental in building Hinkle’s legend.

Over time, Hinkle Fieldhouse, which became the arena’s name in 1966 to honor long-time coach and athletic director Paul “Tony” Hinkle, has been huge in terms of building the reputation that Indiana now has in terms of basketball excellence.

“When you come to a place like Hinkle, you have to enjoy the environment,” DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said. “I understand what this building means to college athletics and athletics in general. It’s always an exciting time.”

While the fieldhouse is known for its quality hoops on both a collegiate and high school level, they’ve been involved in much more over the years.

The windows and high cellings add to the asthetics of Hinkle Fieldhouse. (Darron Cummings | AP)
The windows and high cellings add to the asthetics of Hinkle Fieldhouse. (Darron Cummings | AP)

The mecca of Indiana basketball has welcomed six different presidents, world renowned shows such as the Billy Graham Crusade and the Sonja Henie Ice Show, countless U.S. Olympic trial games, plus the 1987 Pan American games — which yielded the biggest crowd to ever watch a volleyball match with a sold out crowd of 15,000 spectators on hand.

In addition to the great sporting, political and social events, Hinkle was even used as barracks for the United States Air Force during the World War II.

Oh, and did I mention that the sports classic “Hoosiers” starring Gene Hackman was filmed there?

Yeah, that happened too.

This place is not just unique because of its history both in and outside of sports. Its appeal rests in how its adapted with time.

Tom Michaels, a long-time college public address announcer from Dayton, Ohio, who was making his first trip to Hinkle on Saturday, said it best.

“After all the talk I’ve heard of this place, it’s almost risen above my expectations,” Michaels said as he directed his eyes towards the 87-year-old wooden ceiling in.

“Tough to beat expectations when you’re one of the meccas of college sports, isn’t it?”

The arena has certainly maintained its mystique over the years in large part to a quality basketball program. That combination coupled with a dedicated team of stadium personnel and workers who keep Hinkle relevant year after year.

Butler joined the Big East in the fall of 2013, opening the door to more resources in terms of school and its funding.

The very next year, Hinkle underwent a $36 million renovation project that replaced the historic second level bleachers with roughly 2,000 seat back chairs. The renovation decreased the total capacity from about 14,500 to 9,100. As a result, there simply is not a bad seat in the house.

In addition to the seating overhaul, new offices, locker rooms and media areas were all updated with state of the art technology and comfort. The eight, 80-inch flat screens mounted on the walls where press conferences are held certainly spoils coaches, players and media members alike.

The update has only helped the program and in turn, helped the Big East.

Butler’s addition to the conference has been a positive, having been to Sweet Sixteen in four of the six tournament appearances under former head coach Brad Stevens.

A quality team is a mere bonus when considering Hinkle’s appeal.

The high ceilings, the dim, almost hazy lighting and large glass windows that circle most of the roof are certainly architectural feats. The vibes in the place are something that every sport needs to experience.

Every team in the Big East is aware of the significance of the building they’re playing in when they visit Butler. If they don’t, they will quickly learn. 

Hinkle Fieldhouse has stood the test of time, and with the Bulldogs playing like one of the nation’s best teams, the mecca of Indiana hoops may soon become the focus of Big East basketball.

A native of Indiana, Butler junior Kellen Dunham touched on what calling Hinkle Fieldhouse home meant to him.

“I mean, this is the cathedral,” he said with a smile.

“It’s every kid from Indiana’s dream to play here, and I’m just fortunate enough to do it on a regular basis. The place is just unbelievable.”