LOPRESTI: Arena naming, where Taco Bell and Jenny Craig are equals

January 4, 2014

mike lopresti sportsSo one of these days, it’ll be the Indiana Hoosiers coming to you live, from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Let’s just hope by 2016, the college basketball world learns how to pronounce it.

(Skjodt is pronounced “Scott,” as in Great. Which is what the IU accountants probably said when they heard about the incoming check.)

The motivation for the change is hardly surprising. There are 40 million reasons. It’s not every day a university gets a donation—this one from Cindy Simon Skjodt—hefty enough to either refurbish the arena or buy the school a used 747. No doubt, there is a constituency out there that believes if a new name were ever going to be planted on the arena in Bloomington, it should be that of a former basketball coach with a preference for sweaters. To those folks, the matter is as clear as Knight and day.

But arena renaming—a booming sport, by the way—has no firm rules. Schools occasionally go by the heart, but more often the bottom line. Let’s take a brief national tour.

Some took the natural way out. Pay homage to an immortal. No need to ask why it is the Dean Smith Center in North Carolina, or Rupp Arena in Lexington or Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU. All you wonder is where the statues are.

Then again, legend-honoring can get a little confusing. Michigan plays basketball in Crisler Arena, but wasn’t Fritz Crisler a football coach?

Some schools apparently hope to lure you to the nearest drive-through window after the game. That explains the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, the Taco Bell Arena at Boise State, the KFC Yum! Center at Louisville.

But what happens if you overindulge and the school T-shirt starts to fit a little snugly? Go watch the University of San Diego play at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Arkansas wishes to put you in a shopping mood at the Bud Walton Arena, named after one of the founders of Wal-Mart. Presumably the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.—Georgetown’s home—is so named to promote communication devices. All I know is that I once covered an NCAA regional there and my Verizon phone could not get a signal in the basement of the Verizon Center.

Legend has it that the plans for Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke were drawn on a matchbook cover by coach Eddie Cameron. True or not, the place was built for $400,000 and now it is hallowed ground.

So is Pauley Pavilion at UCLA, which honors the regent who matched a fundraising effort for a new arena. Imagine if the school had decided instead to name it for the guy who led the fund drive.

You might know him better from the Watergate scandal. The H.R. Haldeman Pavilion?

Then there is the Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale. Seems the family gave a bunch of money to build something to honor Whitney back in the 1930s. One legend holds that Yale decided a new gym was the best idea, but Payne Whitney’s widow wanted a cathedral. So a Gothic tower was designed for the facility, perhaps in hopes Mrs. Whitney would never realize that jump balls were taking place inside. True or not, a nickname soon appeared in print. The Cathedral of Sweat.

Indiana schools include an automotive flavor. Hence, the Ford Center at Evansville, in case you might be interested in a new Taurus. And the Hulman Center at Indiana State, for the man who saved the Indianapolis 500.

Purdue has honored a longtime athletic director with Mackey Arena, and Ball State a past president with Worthen Arena. But nothing speaks like money.

So at Illinois, it’s out with Assembly Hall and in with the State Farm Center. Wisconsin’s Kohl Center is for Herb Kohl, not because he was a U.S. senator but because he kicked in $25 million from his store empire.

Which brings us back to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Cindy Simon Skjodt deserves considerable applause because $40 million is not your average alumni contribution. She gets a parking space with that, too, right?

Presumably, the renovations will make the Hoosiers’ home a palace and give it a 21st century look. Except for the uniforms, of course. I am just curious to see if $40 million can relieve the death-defying experience of sitting in the top rows of Assembly Hall. It is the closest most of us will ever get to hang gliding.•


Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mlopresti@ibj.com.

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