Misulonas: Time to bring basketball up to speed


Joseph Misulonas, Forum Editor

This morning, I was woken up by what sounded like someone banging a hammer against a metal pole. This could only mean one thing: Construction has begun on the Athletic Department’s new multipurpose indoor facility.

The main feature of the building, which will cost $220 million, will be the brand new indoor football practice field. The modernized practice facility will hopefully attract more high-profile recruits to the Northwestern football team. Coming off their first 10-win season since 1995 and first bowl win since the Truman administration, the Athletic Department is hoping to continue the team’s recent successes and establish Northwestern as relevant Big Ten football program.

As the football team eyes a step toward modernization with the new facility, the basketball teams remain in the dungeon known as Welsh-Ryan Arena. Welsh-Ryan is without a doubt the least impressive basketball stadium in the Big Ten. You know that scene in “Hoosiers” when the Huskers walk onto the court to play the state championship game, and they’re scared out of their minds by the size and intensity of the arena? Imagine the exact opposite of that feeling. That’s what opposing basketball teams feel whenever they visit Northwestern.

NU fans have done a solid job in recent years attending basketball games and creating a hostile atmosphere for road opponents. But the stadium has little marketable qualities. An unpaved parking lot, wooden bleachers, substandard seating and a JumboTron with graphics straight out of the original Tron movie make Welsh-Ryan an obstacle in Northwestern’s efforts to recruit high-profile basketball players. And while the University makes a behemoth investment into football practice fields, no plans have been announced to improve the high school gymnasium posing as a Big Ten arena.

It could be argued that results on the field are the reason for this inconsistency. The football team has appeared in five straight bowl games and recently ended its 64-year bowl drought. Meanwhile, the basketball team has still not been able to overcome the hump and make its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. However, this argument is misguided. If the men’s basketball team is struggling to make the Big Dance, it doesn’t make sense to keep dressing them in rags. You have to buy them a brand-new tuxedo to appear more attractive to prospective suitors.

Northwestern is already at a major disadvantage in recruiting efforts. We have never appeared in the NCAA tournament. Our academic standards limit our potential recruitment pool. And many schools in the Midwest have rich basketball traditions, including schools outside of the Big Ten such as Butler. We cannot afford to list substandard facilities as another deficiency to our program when making our pitch to prospective players.

We all want to see Northwestern teams do well. And in the current NCAA environment, the path to success is paved with gold (and mega-rich donors). If we want the basketball team to produce the same results as the football team, then we have provide them with similar resources.

The football team has embraced the 21st century. It’s time we brought the basketball team along with them.