by Kent Sterling
The immediate reaction to the 50-pound ceiling panel crashing into the seating area of Indiana University’s Assembly Hall 6 1/2 hours before tip-off against the Iowa Hawkeyes was “Thank God it didn’t come loose when the stands were full.”
People would have almost certainly have been killed, and Assembly Hall would have been recalled forever as the building where fans were rewarded for their fandom with an untimely demise.
A stigma would have been attached to Indiana Basketball for eternity, and worse – much worse – several families would have lost loved ones.
And it’s possible that Assembly Hall would have been shuttered as the safety of fans could not have been guaranteed. Without the ability to provide people with a reasonable expectation of living through an event, the renovation planned for the arena would have become moot.
The stench of tragedy might have forced the doors to close on Assembly Hall.
But the worst case scenario did not become a tragic reality, and there will be basketball in Bloomington tonight with the seating areas where the remaining panels similar to that which fell are examined to ensure safety.
The next men’s game schedule to be played in Assembly Hall doesn’t come until March 2nd when Ohio State visits, so the engineers have 11 days to make sure another 50-pound projectile doesn’t come loose and plummet into the student section.
It was easy to look at what happened yesterday as a harmless fluke until I spoke with a member of IU’s athletic department last night. I sent him a text about the bad run of luck that had come the Hoosiers’ way over the past week, and his call was to gently admonish me for seeing this potential tragedy as running parallel with the loss of a couple of basketball games and Hanner Mosquiera-Perea’s OWI.
He drew a parallel between what might have been 6 1/2 hours later with a concert by The Who in Cincinnati on December 3, 1979 that cost 11 lives. It would have also been a much less costly version of what occurred just over 50 years ago at the Pepsi Coliseum in Indianapolis where 74 people were killed because of a building collapse caused by a propane tank explosion.
Indeed, this is not an event where levity has any place, especially not for those who know Assembly Hall as their workplace, or take their responsibility for the safety of those who attend games to forget their problems. Yesterday, was a nightmare averted and it is going to be a long time before anyone in Bloomington laughs about Assembly Hall falling apart.
The possibility that Assembly Hall may have been closed permanently if lives had been lost was advanced during that conversation, and while I think people would have eventually been satisfied that the current building had been rendered safe, there certainly would have been an acceleration to the renovations planned for the 42 year-old building.
So Indiana University gets a mulligan – a chance to inspect and repair the damage evidently done by the worst winter in recorded history. They get to take a deep breath, give engineers a chance to go to work so that no finger-crossing is needed on March 2, and host the last three men’s events of 2014.
Fans will doubtless look warily toward the ceiling a few times, at least during their first game back, and then turn their attention to basketball.
The Hoosiers dodged the kind of bullet whose wound would not have easily – if ever – healed.