Butler Basketball: A Brit’s Take

No one pays attention to university athletics in my native England. But it only took one game at Hinkle Fieldhouse to make me a big fan of the Bulldogs.

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Red flashes and blaring horns. An electric snake of lights, car after car, slithering into the distance.  At that moment, when I left my dorm at Butler University and saw the traffic pouring in for the first men’s home game of the season, I understood the hype of basketball in Indiana. And the short walk to Hinkle Fieldhouse breathed life into the tales I’d heard about the love of college sport in the United States.

Three and a half thousand miles away, on the North East shores of England, is the place I call home. Sunderland. It’s where I was born, raised, and educated. I attend the city’s university. With more than 14,000 students, it’s nearly three times the size of Butler, the school where I’m spending this semester as part of a study-abroad program.

Being from one of the northernmost cities in England has given me two things: an inhuman tolerance of cold weather and an unquenchable thirst for sport, in particular, football (what you Yanks call “soccer”). Sunderland AFC is our professional team, currently playing in the Premier League. It’s a multi-million-pound business, in a multi-billion-pound industry.

But the university team … who cares? Despite the country’s unconditional passion for “the beautiful game,” college sport is simply not a big deal there. Aside from the teams, players, and trainee media students looking to make names for themselves, interest is virtually nonexistent. The talent is there, but with a very limited number of spectators to witness it.

So while applying for a visa, I had one eye on the vast 100,000-capacity college arenas I’d heard about in America, asking myself whether they were just a myth. Surely nobody could care that strongly about a university team?

Within the first few days of arrival I was informed by nearly every person I met that the Hoosier State loves its basketball. And I was soon wholly educated about the Butler glory days from the last few years. When tickets became available for the men’s first competitive game, against Lamar on November 9, I knew I had to grab one.

And this takes me back to Hinkle. As I passed through the doors of the arena, the usually empty ramps buzzed with life. Kids, students, adults, and the elderly, all ascending the lofty heights, were united under the Butler banner. I emerged at the top of the stairs, and the court came into view. Glistening, with benches creaking under the wave of fans sweeping up on either side. I perched on one of the old-school wooden bleachers, watching as more fans streamed into the stands. The band played, the cheerleaders danced, and spotlights flashed as the announcer boomed out names of the students who had become heroes to the adoring masses in the arena. I knew I was a long way from home.

There was something about that night at Hinkle that got me. That was my team on the court. That was my team that won, and everyone was part of it. The sportsmen, musicians, and dancers entertained. And the students, families, and hardcore handful in the “Dawg Pound” fan zone loved it.

It was a college spectacle that we lack in England. On this side of the Atlantic, college is so much more than just buildings where you sit down to read and write. The spirit on display was truly immense. People were actually proud of their local university team. Hoosier Hysteria just claimed another addict.

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