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Sports Business

Future of IU's Assembly Hall will generate chorus of boos

March 9, 2012
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass says the school’s basketball venue—Assembly Hall—is here to stay, at least as long as he’s on the job.

“A new Assembly Hall is not on the drawing board,” Glass told IBJ this week. “Replacing Assembly Hall will be a job for another athletic director.”

And Glass, who replaced Rick Greenspan in 2008, says he has no imminent plans to retire.

That may not be music to Hoosier supporters’ ears. Not the part about Glass staying put, but him keeping Assembly Hall in place as well.

The chorus of jeers toward the venue has been growing almost since it opened in 1971.

Glass’ pronouncement about Assembly Hall is something of a reversal from 2010, when he told IBJ, “[Replacing Assembly Hall] has been talked about a lot, and it’s something [IU] trustees have indicated they want.”

Glass also said replacing the 17,472-seat venue would be “the mother of all capital projects,” likely costing $200 million.

The price tag likely has soured IU trustees on the idea.

One thing pushing the idea forward is the school’s reliance on men’s basketball revenue to fund the entire athletic department. IU this year will generate close to $20 million in hoops revenue, about one-third of the department’s total. Of hundreds of Division I programs, fewer than 10 rely as heavily on their men’s basketball team for income.

In 2010, Glass told IBJ that land adjacent to Assembly Hall has been set aside for the new venue, but added that there was no timetable decided for such a project.

Now, apparently, there is no urgency to get it done either.

There have been copious complaints about the venue’s steep seating configuration, awful balcony seats and poor acoustics. The acoustics complaint is ironic since the venue was build specifically for superior sound and hosting musical acts in addition to the legendary basketball team.

It seems there’s something for everyone to complain about. Rich alums and deep-pocketed sponsors want club seats and luxury suites. Students and fans getting in on the cheap would like some kind of view from the balcony. And nobody likes sitting in the cave-like upper reaches of the main level, with the balcony hanging overhead. At least now, fans can mostly see the scoreboardfrom those seats.

The restrooms are too few and too small and the concession stands are certainly inadequate by today’s standards.

If Assembly Hall was charming like Cameron Indoor Stadium or Hinkle Fieldhouse, fans would be less likely to complain. But I don’t think anyone would argue that The Hall, as it has become known, oozes with charm.

Glass sees the glass as half full—maybe more.

“I think in some ways we have the best of both worlds,” Glass said. “We have an old iconic competition venue with new state-of-the-art training facilities.”

In 2010, IU opened the 67,000-square-foot, multi-level Cook Hall, which includes state-of-the-art athletic training and study facilties, a museum memorializing the school's sports teams and athletes and posh meeting spaces. The $20 million Cook Hall sits adjacent to Assembly Hall and is connected via underground walkway.

Maybe he’s looking through rose colored glasses. After all, Glass graduated from IU in 1981—one of the years the Bob Knight-led Hoosiers won the national championship.

Glass pointed out that the school has spent “a couple million” on upgrades to Assembly Hall’s roof and heating/air conditioning recently. While I’m sure people enjoy being in a dry, climate-controlled venue, I’m not sure that’s much to get IU fans excited about.

And while I’m sure those training facilities are a great recruiting tool for athletes, I’m not sure they do much for the game-day experience for donors, sponsors, student ticket buyers and other alums.

IU officials are considering “sprucing up” the place, Glass said. Surely the seats will be replaced. I can tell you from a recent visit to Assembly Hall that they look, feel and smell like seats in a $1 movie theater. If I weighed 10 pounds more, I’m convinced I would have fallen through to the floor.

“In terms of the bowl, there are some tired features we need to work on,” Glass conceded. He even used the word “renovate,” but added that doesn’t mean “overhaul.”

But what about the seats? Surely there will be new seats.

Glass swatted that notion down like a floater in the lane.

“I wouldn’t hold my breath on that,” he said.

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