Becht: My athletic facilities wish list

Colin Becht

It may only be May, but I’m already reviewing my wish list and counting down the days … till athletic director Jim Phillips announces Northwestern’s athletics facilities upgrades, that is. Anyone know any carols for such an occasion?

Phillips said NU is halfway through creating its facility master plan, so that puts us around Thanksgiving, rolling into the holiday season. I’ve got my letter to Santa (Phillips) already written out.

First, the splash item, the mountain bike if you will: a new basketball arena.

Let’s face it, Welsh-Ryan Arena is a dump. It’s like Wrigley Field but without the history and charm Wrigley has. It’s cramped and hasn’t adapted with the times. There’s a reason people joke that it looks like their high school’s gym. Many of those people might be insulting their high school by making such a comparison. Welsh-Ryan doesn’t even have a videoboard, which puts a constant damper on the atmosphere when fans are greeted after a big play, not with a replay but with failed attempts at a catchy slogan like “Drew for Two!” or “Deposit!”

NU doesn’t need an NBA-sized venue like Value City Arena at Ohio State. Stanford’s Maples Pavilion still roars despite having a smaller capacity than Welsh-Ryan. Cameron Indoor at Duke holds little more than 1,000 additional people.

Let’s take a cue from Ray Kinsella and the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson: Let’s build it and see if they come. It worked for Minnesota’s attendance at football games despite its lack of success. Imagine a new Welsh-Ryan, with a huge videoboard and expanded seating behind the hoops as opposed to bleachers that extend into blackness along the sidelines. At least with that you’ll be able to enjoy the view as you watch NU’s inevitable bubble-popping in late February.

The new Welsh-Ryan is the big money item, and I’m not unreasonable.

Ryan Field can remain virtually untouched. There’s no need to expand the seating unless the facilities master plan also includes a run at the BCS Championship. Just improve the sound system and add a videoboard behind the South end zone and I’m happy.

The necessary improvements to the football facilities aren’t at Ryan Field but to the northwest at the Nicolet Center.

If I’ve learned anything from years of playing the EA Sports NCAA Football series, it’s that NU’s football facilities aren’t up to snuff. The Wildcats start off with a C+ rating in facilities, killing my ability to recruit top talent to my dynasty.

Pat Fitzgerald made practice facilities upgrades part of the conversation when negotiating his contract extension. NU should illustrate its commitment to him with a lakeside practice facility. It’ll take some creativity due to the lack of available land, but within the area that contains SPAC, Lakeside Field and the Leonard B. Thomas Athletic Complex (aka the field hockey field), NU should be able to find room for an on-campus football practice field. The players will appreciate it for morning practice, and it’ll provide a major boost to recruiting.

Phillips emphasized the facilities upgrades plan would take a look at all of NU’s athletic complexes, but in the absence of a major need for improvements to other venues, the revenue-generating sports earn priority position.

So, Dr. Phillips, I’ll leave out the milk and cookies, you deliver the gifts.

Deputy sports editor Colin Becht is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]

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