Northern Arizona University opened the South Academic Center Dormitory in 1971. Anticipating future growth, NAU designed the building with the option to expand. It is the largest residence hall on campus with over 800 beds. Nicknamed "SAC" for many years, in 1987 President Eugene Hughes renamed it McConnell Hall to honor Samuel McConnell, a Williams pharmacist and state legislator who helped secure funding for South Campus construction.
Over the years, McConnell Hall made important contributions to campus life. In 1995, a Get 'N Go convenience store opened in the lobby. In 2001, McConnell hosted a Halloween booth for trick-or-treaters and a Thanksgiving dinner for underprivileged families. In 2003, the hall created Freshman Interest Groups for incoming students to share classes and develop friendships.