For a basketball junkie, the Crossroads Classic should be Valhalla.
Indiana. Butler. Purdue. Notre Dame. Five hours of basketball, four tradition-drenched basketball programs, a smorgasbord of future pro talent, all for the price of a single-ticket. It's a Saturday afternoon before the holidays, a great chance for families divided to vie for bragging rights. And even if the camaraderie isn't your thing, it's one of the few times a year (if not only) that you can sit a few rows away from a college basketball game with a beer in hand. Heck, scratch the basketbalI-junkie line. It's an event that should have broad appeal, even to those that might not catch another college hoops game all year.
But the nearly 3,500 unsold seats reflect a different reality.
I don't have figures on the exact ticket distribution, but the seating bowl in Bankers Life Fieldhouse during the Crossroads Classic is intended to mimic the olde-time Indiana high school sectionals. Each school gets a corner of the Fieldhouse, as shown below.
Everybody gets a corner, carries 25% of the ticket-sales weight, and it creates for a tremendous, unique atmosphere on gameday. Fanbases get to intermingle at the bars and restaurants surrounding the arena on a Saturday. Gives each of the four schools' fans equal access to tickets. It's supposed to give off that tournament-feel vibe. Makes perfect, obvious sense, right?
Maybe if the event existed in a vacuum.
There's two unfortunate realities that the Crossroads Classic must face every year. One, five hours is an incredibly long time to sit and watch live basketball on a Saturday a handful of days before Christmas. For every basketball junkie that wants to sit and assess Isaac Haas' upside in a twenty-point blowout, there's a fidgety child that had too many gingerbread cookies before the game and a wife or girlfriend that still has some last-minute shopping to do. It's a huge commitment for a family to sit through both games. Still, that's something almost each and every neutral site doubleheader has to face. And it's a mitigable harm if ticket distribution is fairly equal among the four participating teams.
But it isn't. And it likely never will be.
As one could expect, Indiana's portion of the Fieldhouse was, save for some open areas in the student seating in the balcony corner, completely filled to capacity. Butler brought in a fairly-sizable contingent. But crimson (spotted with blue, here and there) completely swallowed Notre Dame's seating area and stretched well into Purdue-designated areas, too. It created a tremendous, tournament-like atmosphere for another fantastic matchup that should be played every year, Crossroads Classic or not.
But the second game? Yikes.
NO ONE IS HERE pic.twitter.com/INUt4ABkcb— CHRISTMAS Quarry (@crimsonquarry) December 20, 2014
Not the greatest photo quality there on my part, but you get the point I'm illustrating. When the majority of the tickets are sold by the two schools that play in the first game, the atmosphere for the second game leaves a ton to be desired. Give some credit to Purdue, which did have a decent-but-not-huge turnout for the game. But I don't think I counted 100 non-instrument playing Notre Dame fans all day. And that's a shame because Mike Brey has a heckuva basketball team in South Bend that might be a big-time contender come March.
But now four years into the Crossroads Classic, it should be foreseeable to each of the four participating schools that the teams cannot and will not carry equal ticket sales burden. And they shouldn't have to -- because the lack of sales might be explained by the differing demographics of the four institutions alone. Indiana will always be able to easily outsell the other three institutions when it comes to basketball in Indianapolis. While inarguably the most-successful program in the state in the last five seasons, Butler is a small, private institution one-tenth of Indiana's size. Notre Dame is a football-first school with alumni diffusely spread across the country. Purdue's two trademark fields of study, agriculture and engineering, often lead graduates away from the state's largest metropolitan area, It's not a shot at any of the other three schools -- there's simply a smaller pool of alumni in the Indianapolis area for the ticket sales reps to dial up comparatively.
With that in mind, what happens if this attendance pattern continues? Or worse? What if Butler, transitioning into becoming new-money power conference team in the Big East, sees a few seasons near the bottom of the conference and starts selling fewer tickets? Fred Glass already told our friend Mike Miller at the Herald-Times that Indiana could make more money off another home game against some lowly opponent. Indiana's already attempted to seek flexibility in the date of the event to add other big events, like this weekend's CBS Sports Classic featuring Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, and Ohio State. Does Glass reach a breaking point, looking up into all-red stands, wondering why the program is sacrificing such a valuable date for such a lackluster payoff?
For the sake of basketball in the state, Hoosiers should hope not. And from everything we know about Glass, a high-character man who seemingly values traditions over manufacturing of a buck, it's probably unlikely that Indiana's desire to pad the balance sheet would be the factor that ends the event. Still, something needs to be done to drum up additional interest? If Notre Dame fans aren't going to attend, are they worth looking to replace? But who could they be replaced with?
Here's a better proposal. Take Tom Crean's idea of expanding the event to other teams in the state. When this current contract is up, invite Indiana State, Evansville, Ball State, and Valparaiso -- four programs with some pretty respectable basketball in their own right. Divide the event into a morning session and an afternoon session. Two games in each session; one between the mid-majors, one between the big boys. Forget any sort of rotation, play whatever will be the better game last, in prime-time. Lower the ticket price a bit for balcony seats -- as to not price out your students that are home in the Indianapolis area for the holidays. Maybe this helps with the attendance/leaving early issues by making more good seats available for Butler, Purdue, and Notre Dame. Maybe it only aggravates the problem. I don't know. There are four guys that can sort that all out in the coming months and years that are a helluva lot smarter than myself.
But here's what I do know: the Crossroads Classic is a tremendous, fun event that brings together all of the "homes divided" for a fantastic day of burgers, beers, and basketball in the heart of the state's largest city. And that notion shouldn't be lost because of a few empty seats for the back-end of a doubleheader five days before Christmas. Maybe it should be sold-out every year, maybe -- with the demographics of the schools -- it shouldn't. It's a showcase for the great basketball this state has to offer, in the country's best venue to play the game. As Morgan Burke and Fred Glass have often said, it's about recreating the traditions of old and allowing alums of each school to attend a game right down the street from the office. Indiana should play Butler every year. Purdue should play Notre Dame every year. And there's no reason why they shouldn't play right here, in Indianapolis, as part of a double-header.
And there's no shame in making some changes to that double-header. Especially if that's what it's going to take to keep this event on the schedule for all teams past 2019 and long in to the future.