This is the fifth in a five-part series on the historic home courts of the Indiana University basketball program. Today we take a look at the current home of the Hoosiers — Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Finally, an Arena Befitting a Blue Blood…
By the mid-1960’s, despite Indiana being the only Big Ten team with more than one national title, the New Fieldhouse was the second smallest home court for basketball in the conference. It wasn’t for a lack of trying to upgrade to a state-of-the-art facility.
By 1967, Indiana University had been trying to build a new 15,000 to 18,000 seat arena for more than a decade. Limited funds, resistance by students and government officials, and the prioritization of football over basketball kept the plans on hold.
Finally, on October 23, 1967, Indiana Governer Roger Branigin gave the final approval for the financing of the new arena which was being described at the time as having a capacity of 18,000. After more than a decade of waiting, the new Assembly Hall would become a reality.
With all of the buzz surrounding Indiana University’s Rose Bowl bound football team at the time, the December 22, 1967 groundbreaking received little fanfare.
The new arena was originally expected to be ready for the 1970-71 season. However, the opening was delayed 18 months by construction material shortages and strikes.
Construction was no small task. 60,500 cubic yards of earth and 12,000 cubic yards of rock were removed to make way for Assembly Hall.
According to the IU media guide, The building has a suspension roof made up of 4,500 concrete slabs each six feet long, three inches thick and 30 inches wide. Each slab weighs 500 pounds giving the roof a total weight of 1,350 tons or 2,700,000 pounds. The building holds more than 30,000 yards of concrete, six million pounds of reinforcing steel and almost 1.5 million pounds of structural steel.
By the time it was completed in the fall of 1971, the enormity of the structure set in.
The building weighs 127 million pounds, with 2,700,000 pounds in the roof alone. At the time it contained a sound system with more than 100 speakers, 11 concession stands, 32 restrooms and a cafeteria to serve 250 persons.
The building is a “cast-in-place” concrete structure containing nearly 30,000 cubic yards of concrete.
At the time the basketball floor could be removed and a 108×54 foot portable stage could be installed.
For basketball games 17,500 fans could be accommodated. For events using the stage, 18,500.
Designed as an all-events building, Assembly Hall could be used as an auditorium, a theater, a concert hall and a site for conventions, exhibits and conferences. It included classrooms for the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and offices for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
According to IU Archives, The first event of any kind held at Assembly Hall was the “Homecoming Show” held on October 23, 1971 following the Homecoming football game against Northwestern. The event was a variety show featuring Bob Hope, Petula Clark, Al Cobine & his Orchestra, and the Singing Hoosiers directed by Robert Stoll.
December 1, 1971,was the first regular season game not only for the new Assembly Hall, but also for new IU head coach Bob Knight. The Hoosiers snuck past Ball State, 84-77. 14,853 fans showed up for that game, and Steve Downing led the way for IU with 31 points.
The Hoosiers new home court would be formally dedicated on December 18 against Notre Dame. This game would become noteworthy for a number of reasons.
First, the facility was dedicated exactly 75 years to the day after the original Assembly Hall was dedicated in 1896. Over the course of 75 years, IU basketball had gone from a wooden structure with a capacity of 600 to a cavernous 17,500 seat arena. A sign from the original Assembly Hall was placed in the west entrance and remains there today.
At the dedication ceremony in 1971, IU named the new floor in Assembly Hall after former coach Branch McCracken. The two-time national championship winning coach had passed away a year earlier. A plaque was presented to his wife and son at the dedication game. That plaque can now be found on the northeast side of the court.
Finally, the dedication event was noteworthy for the game itself. The Hoosiers dominated Notre Dame and their first year head coach Digger Phelps 94-29. In fact, IU forward John Ritter outscored the Irish by himself, scoring 31 points on the day.
The new Assembly Hall would go on to be a home court of champions under coach Knight. In addition to 11 Big Ten titles, Indiana has won national titles in 1976, 1981 and 1987 while calling Assembly Hall home.
The arena itself played a big role in those national titles, helping to catapult the Hoosiers to Big Ten titles and high seeds in the NCAA tournament in each of those years. In fact, Indiana only lost two home games combined across those three seasons, both in the 1980-81 campaign.
After each title, the players, coaches and fans reunited at Assembly Hall to celebrate.
Assembly Hall has seen its share of high profile concerts and other events through the years as well, including the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, and Dave Matthews.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Dali Lama, and other politicians and dignitaries have made appearances at Assembly Hall too.
Assembly Hall played host to the NCAA Tournament on three occasions, including “home” games for the 1981 eventual national champion Hoosiers. It also hosted the IHSAA boys basketball state finals in the early 1970s, and was the home arena of the 1984 Olympic gold medal basketball team coached by Bob Knight.
Of course, there have been infamous event at Assembly Hall as well. Probably none was more memorable than on February 23, 1985, when coach Knight hurled a chair across the Branch McCracken floor out of frustration. It was an event that continues on to this day as part of the legend of the great arena.
On a lighter note, younger fans may not realize that “Martha the Mop Lady” was a person actually named Martha — and not just an actress. Opera singer Martha Webster played a cleaning woman for Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance television commercials from 1978-1988, cleaning the hallways of Assembly Hall while she belted out “Indiana, Our Indiana.”
For a while, it looked like Assembly Hall was destined for the wrecking ball. On June 22, 2007, Indiana University trustees approved the demolition of Assembly Hall and the construction of a new basketball arena “when appropriate.”
Reports at the time indicated that it was not economically feasible to renovate the structure, with the cost for the updates nearly approximating the cost of building a new arena.
While of course Assembly Hall has survived to this day, it has shown its age from time to time. Perhaps the most notable such event occurred on February 18, 2014, when an eight foot long beam over a foot wide fell and damaged seats at Assembly Hall. The scheduled game for that day against Iowa was postponed.
While such an event might have otherwise sealed the fate of Assembly Hall, it had been “saved” just two months earlier.
On December 19, 2013, Indiana University had announced that a $40 million donation from Cynthia “Cindy” Simon Skjodt would be used to renovate the aging arena.
The south lobby was redesigned with a new entryway and atrium and included new statutes honoring Hoosier greats from the past. Escalators replaced ramps in the south lobby, clearing space for a more open feel.
Other updates included remodeled and new bathrooms and concession stands. A large state-of-the-art video scoreboard was added as well as luxury seating above the south baseline.
Indiana University renamed the building to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall upon the completion of the renovations and improvements, which were completed in October 2016.
Another factor that likely helped save Assembly Hall was the construction of Cook Hall, which was completed in 2010. The structure was supported in large part by a $15 million donation by the Cook Group.
Cook Hall, physically connected to Assembly Hall, is the headquarters for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, providing them with a state-of-the-art venue in which to practice, train and condition.
Indiana has compiled an all-time record at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall of 576-116, including nine perfect seasons playing in the structure. It has been referred to multiple times as one of the best home courts in the country, and has memorably been called the “Carnegie Hall of College Basketball” by television announcer Gus Johnson.
IU has had multiple long winning streaks in the facility, the longest being 56 games from 1991 to 1995.
While the facility has its limitations such as poor visibility in the upper rows and balconies, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall continues to be one of the loudest, most iconic and more advantageous home courts in the country. It appears to be destined for a long future as the home of the Indiana Hoosiers.
*Pages 6-10 of the October 1971 issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine mention several facts about the new building that were referenced here.
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