One by one on Thursday afternoon they spoke, smiles abundant. It was a joyous day on the floor of Assembly Hall and one that will change the course of history for the building.
In a 25-minute ceremony that included speeches by Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, Indiana University president Michael McRobbie, Indiana men’s and women’s basketball coaches Tom Crean and Curt Miller and one Cindy Simon Skjodt, it was announced that Simon Skjodt (pronounced Scott) has donated a whopping $40 million to IU Athletics to renovate Assembly Hall.
The largest individual gift in IU Athletics history and fourth-largest donation ever to Indiana University has paved the way for a new era at Assembly Hall, with renovations expected to be completed as early as 2016. One additional change: Once the renovations are complete, Assembly Hall’s name will alter ever-so-slightly to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“It’s always a great day to be a Hoosier, but this is a particularly great day to be a Hoosier,” Glass said in his opening remarks.
Indeed, this is a win for all parties involved.
Glass made it clear in the past that he did not want to tear down and rebuild Assembly Hall — it would be a $300 million project and drain multiple athletic department resources — and that a renovation to the 42-year-old building would be much more effective. He grew up watching games in Assembly Hall and did not want that to change for future generations, either.
For both Crean and Miller, keeping Assembly Hall means they can still recruit to the building — its history, its lore. For McRobbie, it gives his University the momentum it needs for its fundraising campaign in advance of IU’s bicentennial in 2020.
And for the renovations to come via a $40 million donation, it ensures Indiana stability. All the dreams the athletic department had of modernizing the arena will become a reality.
“I think it’s certainly no exaggeration to say it’s a truly momentous occasion for Indiana University and a historic milestone for IU Athletics and for one of our most iconic facilities,” McRobbie said.
“Cindy, I think your gift is less of a spark to the campaign as it is a blowtorch,” Glass added.
For Simon Skjodt, too, the decision to give IU $40 million was easy. As someone who grew up watching IU basketball and is an IU alumna, herself, she did not blink at the opportunity to give back. Her three kids have attended school here. Her family has already donated millions of dollars to the University.
And the benefits will be impressive, too: Simon Skjodt will co-chair Indiana’s upcoming Catching Excellence Campaign, a three-prong, $125 million fundraising effort for IU’s athletic department.
“It brings me great pride to be able to offer this gift to IU for the next generation; not just for my children, but for future children, too,” Simon Skjodt said. “I strongly believe that if you love this University, you should give back to this University. I sincerely hope that I can be a spark that helps ignite the Catching Excellence Campaign and I challenge other alumni who have wonderful memories of their college years to help make a difference for future students.”
And perhaps the biggest winners in the renovations of Assembly Hall will be the fans. Escalators will replace ramps in the South Lobby of Assembly Hall. A new state-of-the-art scoreboard will be added, especially improving the experience for those sitting in the balcony. Existing bathrooms and concession stands will be remodeled and new bathrooms will be added. And the overall feel of the building will not change. Games in Assembly Hall will still feel like games in Assembly Hall. And with the addition of box seating and IU making it clear that no seats will be lost in the renovations, even more fans will get to experience Indiana basketball.
“I don’t think it’s too much of an overstatement to say (Simon Skjodt is) saving Assembly Hall for Indiana University,” Glass said. “I think it’s incredibly appropriate that this terrific arena is going to be graced by the name of someone who is in many ways every Hoosier, every member of Hoosier Nation.”
This is a milestone for Indiana University’s basketball programs. This is the day that will spark the changes Assembly Hall has desperately needed. This is the day that Cindy Simon Skjodt helped one of the most famous arenas in college basketball stay around for a while.
This is a moment that should define satisfaction for all parties involved.