The Mad Ants are returning to Memorial Coliseum for games this season, just not as often as we’re accustomed to seeing them.
The NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, announced Friday that their G League team will play only 15 games at the Coliseum. The remaining nine home games will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
But Mad Ants president Tim Bawmann said these plans are only in place for this season and the Pacers remain committed to Fort Wayne beyond 2021-22.
“Our plan is, it's just this year,” Bawmann said. “I've got no indication that there's been any discussions whatsoever about moving the team.
"I moved here five years ago and I moved here to help build the team, so you know I think the long-term goal is still for us to be in this market. It’s a strategic market for the Pacers.
"When you think about it, you know you're (just over) two hours south of Detroit and three hours from Cleveland, three hours from Chicago, so, yeah, it's a good market for us. The intent is to stay here.”
The Mad Ants’ full 50-game schedule, including games at the annual G League Winter Showcase, hasn’t yet been announced. Their first home game will be at the Coliseum on Nov. 6. Other dates already unveiled include Jan. 1, March 6, March 12, March 20 and March 24, and Bawmann said most of the Coliseum games will fall on weekends with a focus on family-friendly theme nights.
The Mad Ants haven’t played at the Coliseum since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of that season. For 2020-21, 18 G League teams opted into a truncated bubble season in Orlando, Florida, and the Mad Ants went 6-9 and failed to qualify for the eight-team postseason tournament.
Tom Hankins coached the Mad Ants last season -- it was his first with the team -- and he’s expected to return this season, though his contract hasn’t yet been completed. Oshae Brissett, Amida Brimah and Cassius Stanley were among the developmental success stories for the Mad Ants last season, each going on to see time with the Pacers in the NBA. Brissett was Second Team All-G League.
There are expected to be 29 teams participating in this G League season, not including the Ignite, a team focused on players fresh from high school, which may just play an exhibition schedule.
This will be the Mad Ants’ 15th anniversary season and their seventh since being purchased by the Pacers, on the heels of Fort Wayne winning the 2014 playoff championship and reaching the 2015 finals under local ownership. Since the Pacers took over, the Mad Ants have made the postseason twice -- losing in the first round, in 2017, and in the second round, after a bye, in 2018.
The Mad Ants ranked 10th among 28 teams in average home attendance in 2019-20 with 2,416 fans per game, including a game in Las Vegas at the Winter Showcase.
If there are any home playoff games this season, the intent is for the Mad Ants to play them at the Coliseum, Bawmann said, assuming the building is available.
A major change will be that the Mad Ants’ players and coaches will reside in Indianapolis and most practices will be held there, instead of locally at the ASH Centre or the Coliseum.
“They really want these guys to be in a controlled environment because we just don't have any idea with this delta variant and (what) COVID continues to do, so they’re going to have the players live in Indianapolis this season,” Bawmann said.
“And that way, they're in their protected umbrella or environment, bubble, whatever you want to call it, so if they need to move kids around then they don’t have to worry about them being exposed in different markets.”