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UD built it, they did come

UD built it, they did come

Thomas M. Columbus January 28, 2020

Once upon a time, the National invitation Tournament was the most prestigious in college basketball. Under the University of Dayton’s first full-time basketball coach, Tom Blackburn, the Flyers in the 1950s and early 1960s achieved considerable success in the NIT. Home for the Flyers then was the UD Fieldhouse (now expanded into the Frericks Center).

Outside of UD Arena with its name illuminated in red against the night sky. By Devyn GustaWhen it opened in 1950, the Fieldhouse had a capacity of 5,500, more than twice the size of UD’s student body. But times change. The size of the student body and the quality of the UD men’s basketball team soared. The Fieldhouse routinely sold out at 5,882, substantially more than capacity. (Bleachers don’t have padded seats and arm rests.)

In the 1960s, the NCAA tournament became preeminent, and the need for a new home for the Flyers, apparent. Excitement in Dayton was fueled by the Flyers’ extraordinary success in making it to the 1967 NCAA tournament championship game under coach Don Donoher. As the University sought a site for an arena, some local people were exploring the possibility of a downtown, multipurpose facility; Dayton at the time had a minor league hockey team. Drawbacks to that plan included parking, cost and UD’s desire for a facility devoted primarily to basketball.

A complex land deal made it possible to build an arena just across the Great Miami River from campus and next to the Dayton Public Schools-owned Welcome Stadium and its large parking lot.

Initial plans called for a large, circular building similar to some others recently constructed. But cost, too, was a factor. The design that won out was more frugal because digging down costs less than building up. The result is the distinctive appearance of the University of Dayton Arena with its playing floor approximately 38 feet below ground level.

The fall of 1969 saw the first basketball played there — as construction workers played 3-on-3 games. The men’s Flyers took to the floor Dec. 6, 1969, beating Bowling Green, 72-70. In March of 1970, the UD Arena hosted NCAA tournament first-round Mid-East Regional games, the first of the record 125 NCAA tournament games — and counting — to be held in the University of Dayton Arena.

The men’s basketball Flyers have drawn more than 10 million fans to the UD Arena.

In the spring term of 2018, a dozen UD students in their history capstone class spent hundreds of hours doing research on a very famous building, the University of Dayton Arena.

The fall 2018 class continued the project. The result of their efforts was more than a chronology of bricks and mortar; it evolved into a social and cultural history of the University and the broader community. To see what they uncovered, go to daytonarenahistory.org.

The man who helped build UD Arena