WNUR 4-on-4: Athletic Facilities

Photo credit: NUSports.com

Photo credit: NUSports.com

In this week’s 4-on-4, we’re looking at Northwestern athletics off the field. A season removed from new videoboards with a new lakeside facility going up, what better time is there to look at the finances of the Northwestern athletic department? Joining our panel is our Social Media Director Ari Ross, our Sportsathon director Nick Scoliard, our co-Online Editor Michael Stern, and co-Sports Director Jason Dorow.

1) The new lakeside practice facilities are officially being build now that ground has been broken.  Let’s just assume that they’re done with work by this time in 2017.  How much of an impact do you think this will have on NU football?

Ari Ross: I think it’ll have a small, but noticeable impact on Northwestern football. Facilities make a difference in recruiting and right now, NU’s facilities aren’t great. More so they’re probably the worst in the Big Ten, with newer facilities, Northwestern will not only have its great academics going for it, but also a great place to play Football. It won’t bring in loads of 5-star recruits, but Northwestern’s recruiting as a whole should increase and benefit from newer, Lakeside facilities.

Nick Scoliard: The impact won’t be immediate. They won’t suddenly improve because they dont have to practice on a 60 yard field (I’m assuming all this construction and they’d put in a full length field). However, the recruiting in 2017, maybe even before if they have made good progress will see a big jump. The recruiting has been strong the past five years, and a showcase of how committed NU is to football and the brand spanking new facilities it has, it will help NU rope in prospects. So while we won’t see the effects of it (heck I’l be gone before it’ll be finished), in the long run, it will improve Northwestern’s talent.

Michael Stern: It’s no secret that facilities play a huge role when it comes to recruiting. I just finished writing a story on Loyola University’s men’s volleyball team, which has parlayed a new gym into a national championship. Iowa State’s $8 million basketball practice facility is a big reason why Fred Hoiberg is still in Ames, Iowa, and not the NBA. Northwestern needs this facility to catch up to the local competition: Illinois has had a state-of-the-art facility since 2000 and Northern Illinois is currently fundraising for a practice space of their own. Coupling shiny new facilities with the opportunities to play in the Big Ten and learn at a world-class university will make Northwestern an easier sell for Coach Fitzgerald.

Jason Dorow: The new facilities are bound to have a significant impact on recruiting for the football team. Back in 2012, ESPN blogger Adam Rittenberg ranked the football facilities of the Big Ten, and the Wildcats finished last. NU obviously competes a lot with its conference foes in recruiting, and the ability to show off a new state-of-the-art facility, which should be one of the Midwest’s best, to prep stars will get more talented players to Evanston. Pat Fitzgerald’s recruiting curve should continue upward, and hopefully that will correlate to consistent 7-8 win seasons by the turn of the decade.

2) You are now NU sports czar with a budget of $100 million.  None of your spending can be on field stuff (so no buying Nick Saban or Urban Meyer).  How are you spending the cash?

Ari Ross: Given $100 million, I’m making major upgrades to Ryan Field. Ryan Field’s concourse can feel old and dingy, as does the seating. The video board was updated last year and now the rest needs some updating. $100 million won’t be enough to renovate the entire stadium, but it should be enough to make some major and noticeable upgrades. Improving the seating and concessions and updating the concourse are two options I’d definitely consider to renovate Ryan Field.

Nick Scoliard: I honestly think right now, NU sports is in a good spot and really doesn’t need much improvement. But it’s a questions so I’ll find a way to spend it:

  • Take better care of Long Field – it’s a terrible field that’s used by club and IM teams that needs to be better handled, or just make new fields (I think the new renovations have this but always good to have more field space)
  • Invest in more club teams – I can speak from personal experience that club teams do get some nice perks, but they are slightly limited in what they can do, and have to raise a lot of money on their own. Adding some funds for these teams would improve a lot of the teams, and be a huge relief for many NU students.

Let’s call those 1 million dollars – that’s probably much higher than it needs to be, but I wasn’t going to get more exact.

Then take the 99 million and renovate Welsh-Ryan. TCU recently renovated for around 60 million, so 99 million will definitely get the job done. Basketball has lacked resources compared to other sports, and with Collins, this NU team has a chance to be really good. Improving the dilapidated stadium would increase the fan base, and help in recruiting.

Michael Stern: I’m buying out all Uber drivers in the Evanston area for every Northwestern football and men’s basketball home game. One of the biggest problems for NU athletics is the lack of student support, and one of the potential reasons for the lack of student support is the perceived inconvenience of taking a shuttle to the arena/field. With my $100 million, I’ve got more than enough money to give each NU student their own personal ride to and from each Wildcat home athletic event, and I’ll probably have some left over to renovate Ryan Field. Maybe add some seats to the far side of the field and give the stadium a facelift so it looks more like a division one football stadium.

Jason Dorow: Well the first thing I’d do as AD is implement a Midnight Madness event for men’s and women’s basketball but that doesn’t require $100 million. This is probably part of the new lakeside facility, but I’d use at least part of that cash on a new practice and competition space for the women’s fencing team. According to NUsports.com, Patten Gymnasium is the home of the women’s fencing team, and many of their competitions are held at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion in the big gymnasium. I might go all out and upgrade to what they had for the Olympics because that would draw quite the crowd.

3) Welsh-Ryan got a little bit of a facelift this last season with new videoboards, but it still lags behind the rest of the Big Ten in terms of amenities.  Give me one easily doable quick fix for Welsh-Ryan that you’d like to see for next year.

Ari Ross: I might be in the minority but I don’t actually mind Welsh-Ryan. Maybe it is the size of a high school gym, but when it’s rocking, it doesn’t matter. What Welsh-Ryan really needs is students to show up to basketball games. When students are they, the place is rocking, but rarely do students ever show up to games. Somehow, someway, the Northwestern athletic department needs to find a way to fill up the student sections. It’s a quick, easy fix that really make Welsh-Ryan a pumped up placed to play.

Nick Scoliard: I just talked about renovating the whole thing, but I’m struggling with quick fixes. Most of the replacements should be new seating, improved layout, but those aren’t quick. I’m thinking of improving the student section, even if it is underutilized. Some of the section is broken, and could probably be redone.

Michael Stern: I’ll go behind-the-scenes here. Those new state-of-the-art video boards needed a control room, which took the place of the media room. This means the media room had to move into the N Club, where donors used to hang out during games. Let’s give the donors back the N Club (and keep them happy), and clear out a closet on the ground floor for a new media room. The current room is inconvenient for the players (they have to walk up the stairs from the locker room to speak to reporters), and takes away space from alumni and donors’ schmoozing radius.

Jason Dorow: Adding the option to use meal swipes at Welsh-Ryan was a game changer last season. This year I’d install public wi-fi in Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field. Everyone wants to be atop the college football scoreboard on Saturdays and see live highlights from games across the country. And I guess the Internet is good for a lot of other stuff too.

4) We can’t be all negative.  What’s your favorite part of gamedays at Northwesern, either for basketball or football.

Ari Ross: It has to be the atmosphere. There’s just something about the college football/basketball experience that is different from any other sporting event. When the music starts playing and Northwestern takes the field/court, (it helps when there’s a packed student section), the place just has this atmosphere that you don’t find anywhere else. Yes it’s not as big at Northwestern as other Big Ten schools, but it’s still there and it brings people back to games.

Nick Scoliard: We pretend, just for a few hours, that we don’t have midterms, hectic schedules and whatever, and just come together, eat, drink, and watch some Big Ten football.

Michael Stern: It’s not all bad all the time to have an intimate home basketball arena. It’s been a trying couple of seasons for NU men’s hoops, but when Welsh-Ryan gets rocking, it’s really rocking. Like, you can feel it shaking. That’s an experience you can’t get in a state-of-the-art mega-arena, and it’s why even some powerhouse programs play home games in tiny gyms (see: Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina). There’s not much like jumping up and down to Chelsea Dagger after Tre Demps hits a dagger. It hasn’t happened often, but when it does, it’s a sight to behold.

Jason Dorow: I actually love the environment in Welsh-Ryan at a packed Big Ten match-up. Sure, an attendance of 8,000 isn’t that great compared to the conference average, but the close quarters of the arena create an intimate and noisy climate. Students have the ability to get floor seats along the baselines to watch some of the country’s best basketball players, and the noise levels are actually some of the loudest I’ve ever experienced (outside the Metrodome of course). With the new scoreboards, Welsh-Ryan is the perfect combination of modern innovation with the classic gymnasium feel.

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