By Zach Osterman
The Indianapolis Star
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In what Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean said could have been “an incredible crisis,” a large metal beam fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling into empty seats on Tuesday afternoon, prompting postponement of that night’s game against Iowa.
An ESPN crew preparing to televise the game caught video of the beam crashing into a seat. It spread quickly on social media, and showed starkly what might have happened had the stands been full for a game. IU described the “metal facing” as measuring about 8 feet by 14 inches.
IU athletic director Fred Glass said at a news conference Tuesday night that a women’s basketball game against Michigan will go on as scheduled tonight at Assembly Hall. Glass said fans will be kept away from the corners of the arena, where the danger exists.
Snow and ice accumulation caused problems in the corners of the arena, Glass said, describing it as a “fairly focused issue.” He said what happened wasn’t because of a “long-term corrosive event” but an immediate, traumatic event.
The decision to postpone the game was made within about an hour of the incident, which occurred around 2:30 p.m.
IU officials said they expect to know by about noon Wednesday whether the next regularly-scheduled men’s basketball game, against Ohio State on March 2, can be played at Assembly Hall.
Rick Fuson, chief operating officer of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, told The Star via email that the Pacers offered Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the IU men’s and women’s games Wednesday.
Glass, however, said the logistical challenges of playing in Indianapolis and uncertainty about Assembly Hall’s availability prompted IU to decline the offer.
“Iowa was open to playing in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which would have made sense if we had pre-planned that,” Glass said. But the athletic director said he didn’t think IU could properly stage a Big Ten game on such short notice.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta issued a statement that said in part, “The most important part of this equation is safety. We are in full support of Indiana’s decision to postpone the game based on the issues with Assembly Hall. Coach (Fran) McCaffery and his team are returning from Indiana (Tuesday) tonight. We are working with Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass and the Big Ten Conference to determine when and, possibly, where to play the game.”
The Big Ten’s policy on rescheduling basketball games gives the schools 72 hours to agree on a time and place to play the game. If the schools can’t agree, the league commissioner will reschedule the game.
Assembly Hall’s roof is held up by large, thick cables, not unlike a suspension bridge. The roof is built to flex. Thomas Morrison, IU vice president for capital planning and facilities, said the preliminary inspection indicated nothing was structurally wrong with the roof.
The plating that fell hangs at the corners where the ceiling and walls meet. As the roof flexed, it loosened that plating. Warm temperatures in Bloomington on Tuesday caused snow and ice that had built up on the roof to start melting. It’s believed that the shifting of the roof under the changing weight caused the plating to break and fall.
Glass said the plating, which has not been replaced since Assembly Hall opened in 1972, is purely decorative and will be removed. It’s not clear how long that will take.
“The good news is that the solution to the problem that we know right now is just to take those pieces off,” Morrison said.
Glass said the proposed $40 million renovation of Assembly Hall shouldn’t be affected by Tuesday’s events.
Glass was meeting with several officials to begin planning those renovations when the plating fell. The structural engineers who helped conduct the initial inspection of the incident were in that meeting.
Indiana last inspected Assembly Hall’s roof last “late summer, early fall,” according to Morrison. The roof was replaced in 2011. Morrison said Indiana hasn’t explored the cost of dealing with the plating issue.
Crean was going through final preparation for pregame walk through when he heard the news from Glass. He said his team still prepared as if it were playing Tuesday night until it heard otherwise, eating its pregame meal and even hearing from San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Crean’s brother-in-law.
Asked for his view on the safety of Assembly Hall, Crean said he’d have no problem practicing on its court Tuesday night.
“We’ll just wait for the direction, but I think we would feel fine doing that tonight, to be honest with you,” Crean said. “(The incident was) very isolated.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball