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May 30, 2013

TODD GOLDEN: MVC Tourney can be ISU success story if work is done

TERRE HAUTE — Prior to last week’s Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament at Illinois State’s Duffy Bass Field, fear and loathing prevailed in some corners of the conference.

It seemed that Missouri State, Creighton, and most notably, Wichita State, had a monopoly on the season-ending tournament since the Coolidge Administration. (It had actually been since 1998.) How could the tournament make it without playing in one of the three aforementioned universities’ big venues?

It turned that the fears were mostly unfounded. Illinois State did an excellent job as tournament host. It was even a refreshing change playing at a smaller venue. The sound of crowd chatter replaced the echo of foul balls off mostly empty sections at the other sites when the home team isn’t playing (and sometimes when they are). It felt like a ballgame.

With Illinois State having shown that the MVC Tournament won’t fall into an abyss, scrutiny now turns to Indiana State, who won the right to host the 2014 tournament at Bob Warn Field.

There’s no reason the tournament can’t work here too.

The organizational ability of ISU, the city of Terre Haute, and the support within the city is beyond question. ISU has hosted the NCAA Cross Country Nationals with distinction for years. It will marshal the personnel needed to make the tournament run smoothly.

Community organizations, such as the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau and organizations like them, will offer their usual rock-solid support. The MVC Tournament will be good for city business, so city businesses should rally to support it.

But to truly maximize the great opportunity this tournament can be for both ISU and Terre Haute, there’s one elephant in the room that must be dealt with before next May.

The Warn Field press box.

You might be asking yourself, “why should I, as a ticket-paying customer, care one iota about the press box?” There’s no doubt that the press box has no impact on a fan’s enjoyment of the game.

However, the press box is the nerve center of the tournament. Game operations staff is based out of the press box. Every MVC school has at least one sports information staff person housed there.

ESPN’s television broadcasts are produced out of the press box. Radio broadcasts — several MVC schools have two-man radio teams — are called from the press box.

Conference officials and visiting administrators from other MVC schools are feted in the press box. Last, and certainly least, the print media observes the games, files deadline stories, and uses the press box as its work area. Most MVC media outlets staff the tournament or hire someone to do so.

Over the years, all of the above groups have considered it standard to work from inside the press box. The key word is “inside” the press box. If personnel are seated outside, be assured that it will be a problem, especially if it rains, which it tends to do — often in buckets — in late May.

Warn Field’s press box is perfectly fine — spacious even — for regular season games, but that’s when there’s just two teams on the field. Warn Field is approved as a NCAA regional site, but that encompasses just four schools. Eight MVC schools will play at Warn Field next May.

When all eight teams were participating, Duffy Bass Field’s press box strained to fit everyone. It was far more equipped than its counterpart at Warn Field.

Warn Field’s press box has several problems. It has just one row of seating within it. It has no private broadcast booths for television or radio. At full capacity, there is very little elbow room for staff, media and administrators to move about.

Again, none of this is particularly important to the public, but the press box is where first and last impressions are made by MVC power brokers who decide whether a tournament is or isn’t a success. An inadequate press box could have a chilling effect on ISU’s chances to host future tournaments. That does affect fans, local businesses, etc.

Nearly every observer from around the league I talked to in Normal privately expressed concern about ISU’s press box or asked whether it will be revamped. Somehow, some way, it has to be addressed. It might even have to be rebuilt which would cost ISU money.

But ISU wanted this tournament. It bid for it and won it, so it’s duty-bound to do it right.

What it boils down to me is this: ISU can make the press box functional for the tournament, make the great impression it’s more than capable of making, and be added to the MVC rotation as a regular host. That benefits both university and the city for years to come. Everyone wants that.

Or ISU can do nothing, run the risk of being on the wrong end of complaints from league observers, and squander a chance to host future tournaments. No one wants that.

The MVC tournament will work here if this hurdle is cleared. I hope ISU can muster the resources to do it right.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

 

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