Bill Benner Named to Hall of Fame By Zionsville Based US Basketball Writers Association
One of Indiana’s most renowned contributors to Indianapolis sports journalism, Bill Benner, has been selected into the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) 2021 Hall of Fame Class. The USBWA, headquartered in Zionsville, Indiana, has selected Benner—a lifelong Hoosier and highly respected, award-winning Indianapolis sports journalist, commentator and local sports expert—as one of five sports writers selected throughout the U.S. to be inducted this April. Included in this year’s HOF class are Benner’s fellow inductees Pat Forde, Dana O’Neil, Brian Morrison and Loren Tate.
A Brief Overview of the USBWA
The United States Basketball Writers Association was formed in 1956 and is recognized as one of the most influential organizations in college basketball. Since its inception, USBWA has served the interests of writers who follow college and high school basketball in the U.S. The USBWA’s postseason awards program honors national and district Players of the Year and Coaches of the Year, as well as the winners of the Most Courageous Award, the Katha Quinn Service award and inductees into the USBWA Hall of Fame. The organization’s executive director, presidents and nine district representatives throughout the U.S. are responsible for selecting the USBWA HOF Class nominees.
USBWA executive director and Zionsville resident Malcolm Moran shared his thoughts on Benner’s selection and his contributions to sports journalism over the decades.
“If Bill [Benner] had continued as a columnist and did not have these other careers that he’s excelled in, he would be just as authentic [now] as he was then,” Moran stated. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that his handling of different platforms would be just as authentic, just as responsible, and he wouldn’t use it as an excuse to go off the deep end. The thing that gave [Bill] so much credibility is that when he was critical of someone or something, it was absolutely authentic. It wasn’t to irritate his audience or to draw attention to himself. It was because he had a remarkable institutional memory and it gave him a sense of conviction when he wrote. And I think that’s why it’s all the more reason to celebrate his work the way that the organization [USBWA] is.”
A Long and Illustrious Journalism Career
Benner’s career as an Indianapolis sports journalist and columnist spans several decades. Benner was a sportswriter and columnist for The Indianapolis Starfrom 1968–2001, then served as a sports columnist for The Indianapolis Business Journalfrom 2001–13.
During his career with the newspaper, Benner covered high school sports, the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts, three Olympics (Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta) and two Pan American Games (Indianapolis, Havana), Masters and U.S. Open golf, tennis and more than 20 NCAA Final Fours. He became a full-time sports columnist in 1990.
Today, Benner continues to host the “Inside Indiana Sports” segment on the statewide “Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick”television show and is serving in his third term as a board member of Special Olympics Indiana, on which he also served as board chairman in 2009 and 2010. Benner also serves on the board of Finish Line Youth Foundation.
When asked what Benner thinks about the evolution of journalism—specifically sports journalism—Benner replied, “I’m still a guy who likes to have a little ink on my fingers as I read the morning paper. In the good ol’ days, there was a true depth of coverage because media companies devoted people resources towards reporting and commenting on the news of the day, whether it be sports, features, music, the arts, you name it. Social media has dramatically changed what newspaper are. Let’s say, for instance, if the Pacers have a bad first quarter, the tendency is to say the team is doing this wrong or that wrong and to be critical in the moment rather than in the days of traditional print journalism to actually allow the game to end. The Pacers might end up playing very well and win.”
Benner added, “The old days afforded time and perspective, whereas today—driven by social media—that is not a luxury. Is it better or worse? I will allow other people to say. It’s just dramatically different.”
A Few Snippets From Benner’s Memory Reel
Benner shared a few memories of his innumerable experiences that chronicle the evolution of Indianapolis—once a city that you flew over, it became the amateur sports mecca of the world.
“One thing that I was very fortunate to cover, both in the ‘beat’ realm and then later as a columnist, was the evolution of Indianapolis as a sports capital,” Benner shared. “I covered the first Pacers game in Market Square Arena back in 1974 and saw the impact it had on downtown development. I witnessed the formation of the Indiana Sports Corporation as the umbrella organization that would attract sporting events and sports associations.”
Benner considers himself fortunate to have witnessed and written about the arrival of the Colts organization, the construction and life of the Hoosier Dome, Bankers Life Fieldhouse—then Conseco Fieldhouse—the attraction of the Final Fours and of the NCAA itself.
“I was fortunate to write all about that and to help chronicle Indianapolis’ unmatched, unparalleled success in the realm of using sports to create an identity for itself,” Benner expressed. “It’s even more phenomenal if you take yourself back to the mid-1970s and recognize what Indianapolis was then and what it is today. And that’s notwithstanding the long-term impact and presence of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it’s been.”
Like any Hoosier who walked the earth in the era of Indiana University and Purdue University’s rivalry in the days of head coaches Bob Knight and Gene Keady, Benner remembers the intensity of those collegiate basketball tournaments and what it was like covering two of the greatest college basketball coaches in the history of collegiate sports.
“I evolved to covering college basketball, including Final Fours, when Keady and Knight were in their heyday,” Benner said. “I felt compelled, especially as a columnist, to write my true feelings and observations. And [Knight] certainly had his controversial moments, and I didn’t shy away from weighing in on those moments. Because I was as concerned about the reputation of Indiana University as I was about the championships that were being won.”
Benner continued, “With Bob Knight, everybody who covered him—and I mean everybody—eventually came to a crossroads, and you essentially had to choose [your path]. And when my crossroads arrived, I chose that I was going to stay true to what I thought was my role and responsibility as a journalist and as a sportswriter. That being said, I never doubted for a second that if I had to choose one coach to win one game, especially if the other team had more ‘talent,’ I would have chosen Bob Knight—he was a great, great basketball coach.”
Onward and Upward
With the upcoming March Madness ahead of us, we asked Benner if Indianapolis’ best sports days were behind us or if there are better days still to come.
“I think as we reemerge from COVID-19, we’re also going to reemerge with a greater and true appreciation for seeing live sports and being part of that atmosphere,” Benner expressed. “I think we [all] miss being part of the collective moments. I miss going to games, and I truly do miss the emotions of the crowds.”
The days of being confined to one’s living room or “mancave,” watching sports on one’s big-screen TV are numbered, and soon, sports enthusiasts will join together, creating and witnessing the vibrant energy that modern-day downtown Indianapolis was designed to cultivate.
“I don’t like sitting in front of my big screen [TV] watching sports all the time,” Benner admitted. “It’s just not the same. It cannot replicate what it’s like to be there. I’m very hopeful that [March Madness] will reignite our thirst and our passion for being there with thousands of others, feeling the ups and the downs. I think, in some cases, we began to take it for granted, and as we come out of this [pandemic], the perspective will have changed and for the better.”
Benner’s Career at a Glance
– Served as senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League (2010–13), director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association (2005–10) and vice president of communications for Indiana Sports Corporation (2001–05).
– Served as senior vice president for corporate, community and public relations for Pacers Sports & Entertainment and executive director of the Pacers Foundation. Benner also served as co-chair of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee media relations committee and currently serves as speakers bureau co-chair for the Indy Championships Committee.
– Spent 10 years as an adjunct faculty member of the Butler University department of journalism, where Benner taught sports journalism.
– Served as co-chair of the media relations and media operations committee for the 2012 Super Bowl and continued a history of involvement in major sporting events in Indianapolis, having also served on local organizing committees for multiple NCAA Men’s Final Fours, the 2016 NCAA Women’s Final Fours, the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials and numerous Big Ten women’s and men’s basketball tournaments. Benner also served on the committee that produced a successful bid for the 2024 NBA All-Star.