Gelman: Northwestern has a messaging problem

Max Gelman, Reporter

Early in my junior year, I acquired the nickname “Framps.”

It’s a fairly innocuous nickname with a fairly innocuous origin. In the first few weeks of that Fall Quarter, I had repeatedly fallen asleep on the loveseat in my apartment, like many grandpas are wont to do. My roommates took careful note of this and began calling me “Grandpa Gax,” using my spoonerism-ed first name for some nifty alliteration. “Grandpa Gax” soon evolved into “Fratty Grandpa” after I wore a Vineyard Vines shirt one time, which then contracted to “Framps.” (Disclaimer: I am not actually in a fraternity.)

So as I prepare to graduate in a few weeks, I figured now is the perfect time to tell Northwestern: get the hell off my lawn.

By now, you’ve probably seen several articles about the new, and extremely expensive, Ryan Fieldhouse on the lakefront. The articles gush about its impressive floor-to-ceiling windows, muse how the building looks like a spaceship, or remark how even Alabama coach Nick Saban would be jealous of the new practice facility.

Part of me is uncomfortable with just how comfortable the University is bragging about spending all this money. It almost seems like Northwestern is flaunting its wealth because it only cares about its image, that it’s compensating for the fact that Northwestern still hasn’t completely overcome the perception that it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a “sports school.”

For a school that prides itself on repeating faux-catchy slogans like “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” and “AND is in our DNA” ad nauseum, it’s exactly the kind of PR campaign Northwestern could have wished for. But something smells fishy underneath all that money. Why, exactly, does Northwestern feel it necessary to constantly remind everybody how impressive it is?

The worst part is that such bravado fuels the narrative that Northwestern does things “the right way.” Throughout the men’s basketball team’s 2017 NCAA Tournament run, influential NU alumni constantly heaped such praise upon athletic director Jim Phillips and coach Chris Collins. That praise, however, occurred in spite of serious allegations over whether the athletic department ran a player, Johnnie Vassar, off the team to free up a scholarship.

One simply has to look at other programs nationwide to see the path Northwestern might head down. At Louisville, the men’s basketball team lost a national title after a staffer set recruits up with escorts to convince them to enroll. At North Carolina, student-athletes for more than 18 years took fake classes to remain eligible to play their sports. At Miami, a booster used money from a Ponzi scheme to provide impermissible benefits to football players. Collins’ apparent sleaze could be a warning sign of things to come.

I realize that having nice facilities helps attract more recruits, and eventually could lead to the kind of on-field success that Northwestern isn’t historically known for. After all, the Wildcats hold the NCAA Division I record for most consecutive losses in football. The new facilities can also drum up excitement with the fanbase vis-a-vis the potential for those better recruits.

But overall, Northwestern has fundraised a disgusting $400 million for athletics during my four years as a student, an impressive total for Phillips. That’s a lot of money. Perhaps it’s warranted given that we’re living in what’s essentially the golden age of NU’s revenue sports: three 10-win football seasons in six years and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if Northwestern tried to be more proud of that than its expensive construction projects?

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Twitter: @MaxGelman