Uncertain Future for Schmidt Fieldhouse
By Skip Tate
When Schmidt Fieldhouse opened in 1928, it was a first-class facility far superior to those of many other colleges and universities. The University of Cincinnati played in a lesser building, McMicken Hall. So did the universities of Kentucky and Louisville. Schmidt held more than 3,000 fans, making it a big, raucous, intimidating place when the Musketeers were winning.
And the Musketeers won there a lot, beating visitors more than 70 percent of the time. They knocked off Cincinnati in the first game played there, in 1928. And they upset No. 2-ranked Louisville in 1956 while on their way to their second straight NIT appearance.
The quality and standards expected of today’s arenas, however, long surpassed those available at Schmidt, leaving the once-grand facility limited in its usefulness and, quite possibly, its life. With the Cintas Center now housing the department of athletics and the basketball and volleyball teams—and a limited supply of available real estate on campus—antiquated facilities such as Schmidt seem destined for destruction.
“Any plans involving Schmidt would probably also address the Armory and O’Connor Sports Center,” says Ron Slepitza, vice president for student development. “This would come as part of the next strategic plan, which isn’t in place yet. Clearly, the sports center needs to be evaluated, but we’ve done what we can for now, and it’ll probably be four or five years before anything else happens.”
“Something has to be done with O’Connor in the short term,” says Jim Ray, director for recreational sports, “and then we have to have a long-term plan for something new. The University needs to catch up and build a recreational facility that allows us to have a first-class retention and recruitment tool for students. It’s the same as with the athletes—students base part of their decision on where to attend on the facilities.”
The problem, though, is this: all three facilities are still used regularly by athletics, students, faculty, staff and outside organizations. Plus, no space exists to temporarily relocate everything while something new is built.
“What we have right now with Schmidt is the opportunity to do some things for sports besides basketball and volleyball,” says Mike Bobinski, director for athletics. “Men’s and women’s soccer were previously infringing upon recreational sports. Baseball was practicing in the Armory, and we’re lucky guys didn’t lose their lives in there with all the balls flying around. We’ve renovated the locker rooms and we’re making things better for our other sports.
“Whether Schmidt, in its current design, is the best place to accommodate them in the long run, I don’t know. As we move into the next planning cycle, I think the whole complex will receive attention. Does that mean tearing it down? I think it’s way too early to say. Maybe a complete gutting would be the answer.”
Given its history, it’s hard to imagine the building disappearing completely. It’s one of the oldest, most storied structures on campus—it was home to men’s basketball and graduation for more than 50 years, and women’s basketball for 29 years. But the University has many needs, and old buildings aren’t always accommodating to adaptation. “It’s lived a wonderful life,” says Ray, “but we need something new.”