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Butler finally starts packing fieldhouse

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It is a paradox of college basketball.

Butler sits in the heart of basketball country, a poster child for everything right about the college game.

Fundamentals? Check. Integrity? Check. Tradition? Check. Success? Check.

When it comes to college basketball, the Bulldogs have been America’s team for the past five years.

Until recently, though, that rarely resulted in a packed venue when Butler took the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Go to many weeknight games and you can pick your seat in the upper bowl. It is not unusual for 3,000 seats or more to go unfilled in the 10,000-seat arena. Even ducats for weekend encounters often are plentiful.


It sure is. It is not like Butler is a secret anymore.

The best program in the state over the past decade plays in the state’s coolest venue and its largest city. Where is everybody?

That is starting to change.

Are the Bulldogs finally becoming not just America’s team but Indy’s team, too?

Successive home sellouts against Gonzaga and Temple the past two Saturdays — both hard-fought wins, by the way — may be a turning point.

Finally, it seems, people may be stepping up to the ticket window with their support.

An over-capacity crowd of 10,228 squeezed in to see the Zags; 10,000 were there for the Owls a week later.

The Bulldogs are reportedly close to selling out several other games against Atlantic 10 opponents.

The move from the Horizon League to the A-10 may be a big factor, as more high-profile opponents visit Hinkle.

Increased television exposure is another key. ESPN GameDay staged its two-hour preview show from Hinkle before the Gonzaga game and the Bulldogs are featured in a number of network broadcasts this season.

Finally, Butler continues to see the success of back-to-back NCAA Championship Game appearances in 2010 and 2011.

Attendance is up for a fifth consecutive year at 7,559 per game, approaching the mark of 8,000 a game set in 1964.

That is good news for a program that has sometimes struggled to garner attention in the shadows of Big Ten and NBA neighbors.

If the Dawgs are a consistent top 25 team, they deserve a top 25 crowd.

Finally, fans are catching on.

Attendance has grown at a brisk pace over the past five seasons and is now at 76 percent of capacity.

That is more than double the average crowds of 3,500 in the mid-1990s.

For the growing trend to continue, Butler will have to move forward on its plans to update Hinkle while maintaining its Historic Landmark character.

Walkways are tight and restroom facilities are quite antiquated, for instance. Concessions are stuck in alcoves and hallways.

A $30 million campaign is under way.

It is just in time for a program that is undefeated at home.

With another edition of the Bulldogs making national news on the court, fans are taking notice.

Gone are the days when, as one sports commentator wrote, you could fire a cannon in Hinkle’s upper bowl with no danger of injury.

A big-time program is drawing big-time crowds.

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