My favorite part of my story on Sunday about the Ford Center’s getting the GLVC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments again next year is the pressure this year’s tournament put on a couple of athletic directors, from Drury University and Bellarmine University. Drury hosted the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional in men’s basketball while Bellarmine hosted the first two rounds of the Elite Eight in Louisville, Ky. Now, Drury did a bang-up job (I know because I was there covering USI) and I’m sure Bellarmine did just fine running the Elite Eight’s early rounds at Freedom Hall (a legendary venue just by itself). And yet these schools felt a need to up their game after what they witnessed here in Evansville. Granted, there were never huge crowds at the games here — USI’s biggest was in the semifinals, and it didn’t even reach 1,500 — but the entire atmosphere of the tournament felt big time.
Credit the Ford Center. It really is a gem. Its most notable characteristic, I feel, is its acoustics. It funnels the noise of the crowd to the center, onto the court, so that even though there were fewer than 2,000 watching any one game, it sounded like a lot more. And the arena projects the feel of the big time. I’ve heard many people say that when they walk in, it feels like they’re no longer in Evansville. Yes, that sounds like a knock on our city and, in a way, it is. We have a bad habit in this town of doing things only halfway, of not doing the extra work necessary to make something special instead of ordinary. But there are a few places in which that’s not the case — the downtown library, the Victory, to name two. Now the Ford Center.
What needs to happen next is getting basketball fans to come out to these GLVC tournament games. NCAA Division II hoops is high quality. Someone told me years ago during my first stint covering USI that the only real difference between D-II players and D-I players was height, but that quickness, athletic ability and overall quality of the game is the same. Maybe. But I will say that seems to be true most of the time with GLVC teams. And with the Ford Center, you’re going to see it up close because you’re right on top of the action. There’s not a bad seat in the house.
The GLVC tournament is returning to Evansville in March 2014. A couple of weeks after that, we get the Elite Eight, an even bigger deal, with a national TV audience for the title game. Though we won’t be the hoops capital of America, we will be pretty far up the line.