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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Assembly Hall has been the home to Indiana University basketball since 1971 and has hosted more than 12 million fans during its history. The majority of its 17,142 seats are on either side of the court, creating one of the loudest atmospheres of any college venue in the nation. Its unique design seems better situated for a Broadway play or concert venue; theater style balconies are situated at the top of each section. It is a marvel of a design built in an era where many facilities lacked imagination and were rather rudimentary. Perhaps that is why the venue is deeply engraved into the fan base. This is the home of Hoosier basketball.
The facility has a modern, aesthetically pleasing design from its exterior, one that promotes progress and blends in well with the college scenery. The opening of the venue coincided with the debut of head coach Bobby Knight who would lead the Hoosiers to three NCAA championships (1976, 1981, and 1987) during his 29 year seasons in Bloomington, perhaps forever linking the two iconic institutions.
However, after 45 years of service, the arena is in the process of a $40 million renovation plan that was a gift from alumnus Cindy Simon Skjodt to enhance the experience for future patrons. Skjodt grew up watching Hoosiers games with her father and fell in love with the atmosphere. Once renovations are completed, the university will rename the building in her honor to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The refurbishments at Assembly Hall will focus on improving amenities to enhance the fan experience, while at the same time preserving the look and feel that fans have become accustomed to after so many years. This will include improving the balcony seats and adding box style seating above the south baseline bleachers. The south lobby will be reconstructed to feature a new entryway and atrium, escalators will replace the long and tortuous ramps, a new state-of-the-art video scoreboard will hang above center court, and visitors will have an interactive experience of past team glory as they walk on red flaked floor tiling.
The plan is to maintain the character and experience of the venue while enhancing the facility’s functionality. These are definitely bold and aggressive measures for the 45 year-old venue, but ones that are needed in order to meet today’s 21st century sports fan.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
One might want to grab a bite to eat before the game since there is not much variety at Assembly Hall. You will find your basic stadium food groups here including hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, and pop. The footlong hot dog ($6), regular hot dog ($4), Polish dog ($5), and Papa John's Pizza ($7) are your main options at the concession stand. Nachos ($4), pretzel ($4), and popcorn ($3-$8) round out your options.
Coca-Cola products are sold in 32 ounce cups for $4. The new changes to the arena will definitely improve the selection of concession options. One interesting note is the corporate lounge catering food and beer from local Quaff On! Brewing Company in nearby Nashville, Indiana. They make a dynamite Buffalo chicken mac and cheese and smoked pulled pork and chicken. When you top it off with a Busted Knuckle Ale, you are eating good.
Assembly Hall is quite an experience. The exterior of the facility has an uncanny early 1970's appearance, and is worth a few photo opportunities. The fans march towards the building wearing the colors of crimson and cream, complete with the team's famous candy striped pants. Once inside the narrow hallways and ever present ramp system is the entrance to the court. A breathtaking view of swooping rows of seats at either end that gently slope towards the balcony seats at the very tippy top is seen. At the ends of the court are a mere 20 rows of seats and the assortment of championship banners, including IU's five NCAA championships.
The basketball game is the star and rightfully so. There are no mascots running around, wacky promotions, t-shirt tossing, or halftime promotions. What you get is an old-fashion, bare bones style of basketball the way it is played throughout the high school gymnasiums and various college arenas across the state. The players wear the same principle uniforms that former players wore, complete with no names on the back, candy striped pants and Indiana script warm up outfits.
The cheerleaders and band drum up support between breaks and the student section does its job trying to distract an opponent's foul shot attempt with oversized head shots of Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift, or whatever celebrity they could find.
There is a main team store located at the entrance that is full of merchandise that might not be available elsewhere around the state. There is also a small kiosk in the north lobby against the ramps to the upper section. The Indiana Hall of Fame is located in this area and features player portraits and accolades from the university's copious championships and winning seasons.
There are numerous choices for eating, drinking, and shopping nearby that are within a couple of miles. Mother Bear's is probably the number one place for pizza in town. The pies are baked in a deep dish allowing the cheese to caramelize around the edges. The place always seems to be packed and parking is limited around the restaurant.
Lennie's is another fine choice, with a lot more parking, that features sandwiches, pizza, stromboli, and beer brewed by the Bloomington Brewing Company. The heart of Bloomington is Kirkwood Ave, featuring two local institutions - Nick's and Kilroy's. The square features various shops, bars, and restaurants and borders the entrance of many of the picturesque grounds of the Indiana campus.
A little north of town is Oliver Winery; the beautiful gardens, water fountains and picnic areas around the lake offer a romantic spot for couples or a great place to enjoy wine with friends. Another colorful and touristy area is Nashville, Indiana, located in nearby Brown County offering some of the best biking/hiking trails in the country and an eclectic downtown jam-packed with shops, restaurants, and Quaff On! Brewing Company.
Lodging accommodations include many reputable national establishments: Hampton Inn, Spring Hill Suites, Homewood Inn, and Fairfield Suites and Suites to name a few.
Hoosier fans are loud, proud, faithful, and are everywhere across the state and beyond. They make it one of the loudest and most intimidating venues in college basketball. Just engage in a conversation on the team's chances during the Big Ten tournament and you will have many claiming that the team is on its way to winning a sixth national championship.The men's basketball record at Assembly Hall is an incredible 540-105 as of this writing during the 2015-2016 season. The student section is the largest in the nation providing seating for 7,080 people. Regardless of the opponent they are playing, the Hoosier supporters are 100% behind their team.
Assembly Hall shares the complex with both the football and baseball stadium creating more than enough parking for visitors. The parking fee is $10 for cars and is probably the best bet to park your car on game days. The south lobby is closed during renovations and all traffic is directed to the north lobby entrance. Arriving at your seat can provide a workout due to the steep incline, but the view of the court might be worth your venture to the top. Upcoming renovations will refurbish existing bathrooms and include escalators to make arriving at your seat a little bit quicker.
There are two price points for tickets for Indiana games: $27 for the upper section and $52 for the lower section. It is a very reasonable price for college hoops action, especially for a venue with as much character and history as Assembly Hall. When you tie in the price of concession items and parking, it is easily an affordable night watching elite Big Ten basketball.
One extra point for the championship banners that hang at both ends of the court, the style of the arena creates an ideal space to don the banners, instead of the usual hanging from the rafters that is common in most indoor facilities.
Two additional points for the tradition of Indiana University basketball; it is rich and definitely something to savor while you attend a game at Assembly Hall.
One final point for the fervor shown by the largest student section in college basketball. They truly help to make this an elite experience.
The renovations that are coming to Assembly Hall next year should not disappoint the many who have spent the past winters enjoying basketball underneath its ceiling. These changes are much needed in order to enhance the overall experience. Many more years of basketball will continue to be played in one of the most iconic sporting facilities in the country. The future looks good for the Indiana Hoosiers and Assembly Hall.
Member Review by paul
When Assembly Hall opened on the campus of Indiana University in 1971, there were two National Championship banners hanging from the rafters. Since that time, 3 more have been added during the Bob Knight era. The mere presence of 5 National Championship banners makes Assembly Hall a must see for college basketball travelers.
Member Review by IU73 on Dec 07, 2012
When you come to Assembly Hall, you see what college basketball is all about. IU gives over 6,000 tickets to the students. To say that the students and fans support IU basketball is an understatement. Assembly Hall has been sold out for years. There is a waiting list to buy season tickets.
Member Review by Jordan_Baer on Jan 28, 2013
There’s no place like home, and when you step foot into Indiana University’s Assembly Hall, you will instantly feel like you are, “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Built in 1971, Assembly Hall is an arena that is so entrenched in Indiana Basketball glory that IU starts off every game with a video of the janitor lady singing the IU fight song.
Assembly Hall is one of those places that fans either love or hate, there really isn’t any gray area. Critics of Assembly Hall complain about the upper level balcony being too steep and too far from the court. They also complain that the arena’s time has come and gone, that its structure is getting old, and that its useful life is coming to an end due to its small seating capacity, its lack of revenue generating amenities, and its unique design being too expensive to renovate.
Supporters of Assembly Hall, like me, tend to be in the vast majority. They point out the uniqueness of the arena as a strong point for Indiana Basketball. With its iconic red stripes and championship banners hanging behind the student sections and both goals, IU is a very tough place for an opponent to pick up a win. It’s also a great recruiting tool due to its rich history of championship teams who played in this arena under the direction of IU head coach Robert (Bob) Montgomery Knight. Some supporters have also drawn up plans to renovate the structure.
As for who is right and who is wrong on the future on Assembly Hall, that’s a story whose ending we still don’t know. Several years ago, IU released a master plan for their athletic complexes and then voted to tear down Assembly Hall in favor of a new arena in its southern parking lot when proper funding is obtained.
Although renovating Assembly Hall is cheaper than building a new facility, it apparently wasn’t a big enough difference for IU to consider renovating it. Fortunately, it appears that IU is still a long ways off from coming even close to funding Assembly Hall’s demise making it safe for now.
In the meantime, Assembly Hall stands tall and proud for those who want to take in a piece of Indiana Basketball action. Its walls are decked from corner to corner in photos of legends who have called this place home. Whether you are a diehard fan or not, you can’t help but put this place on top of your sports tour list. As soon as you walk into this nostalgic facility, you will instantly feel the urge to start singing, “Indiana, Our Indiana.”
Member Review by Mjhoosier89 on Feb 24, 2016
You come here to watch the game, plain and simple. When the place is rolling and every fan is living and dying with every possession, there may be no better sports atmosphere in the country.
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