>The Arms Race Goes Public

>Over the Memorial Day weekend many of us fell “behind” on the news. LTP was no exception and in my usual sweep of all things Northwestern, I realized this Teddy Greenstein piece had slipped past me. In the article, Greenstein actually was able to get quotes from AD Jim Phillips, Bill Carmody and even Fitz. Carmody was the most outspoken about the need to “update the whole place” meaning Welsh-Ryan Arena. As you read, his top priorities are a new scoreboard and creating purple-back seats at least in the lower arena. More on this in a minute.

The note that really caught my eye was Phillips’ acknowledgement of being in the middle of a master plan for facilities that would address most athletes’ needs. That is the plan I want to get my hands on. Most of you at some point have speculated on upgrades to Ryan Field and Teddy writes that Fitz and the football program have indeed made inquiries for a new weight room, offices and then TG put his own personal hot-button topic of LTP – knocking out some stands to reduce capacity. While I’m with Teddy in spirit on ensuring there are no eyesores on TV, I’m not about long-term reduction of capacity. As recently as 12 years ago we were averaging in the 40,000+ per game. While I’m certain that renovations to the stadium won’t hurt, I’m not sure that is the solution to boosting attendance and in Teddy’s defense he didn’t make that claim.

The bigger picture dialogue here is the arms race in college athletics. You’d be surprised how many times recruits will pick one seemingly obscure nuance at a place that makes the difference. “They have a fruit smoothie bar in their weight room!”. “They have Wiis at every locker!” Don’t think NU recruit are immune to being swayed by seemingly minor details. I believe it was Hudaifa Ismaeli, arguably the ‘Cats most athletic DB ever, who chose NU in part because he liked the black uniforms.

Michigan’s ill-timed renovation (plans were started well in advance of the economic collapse of 2008) is near completion. The Big House just got bigger – and much more plush – with the installation of luxury boxes around the entire stadium. To see this in person is absolutely mind-boggling as it relates to the size of the renovation. The cost? Oh, just a quarter of a BILLION dollars. That’s right, the addition of luxury boxes cost almost as much as Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium ($288 million), but nonetheless, the Gophers have brand-spanking new digs. What is the part of the stadium that gets the most pub? You got it, the nation’s largest locker rooms. Even the proletariat programs like Indiana have got in to the act. Many of you have expressed a desire to see NU borrow design improvements from the Hoosiers, who last year completed a north end zone enclosure that has an enormous weight room facility, classrooms and looks pretty darn slick as part of a $55 million athletics renovation. The Illini also recently completed a $100 million renovation which added 14,000 seats, enclosed the horseshoe, added a new scoreboard and added luxury boxes. Come to think of it, name a school that hasn’t had a major renovation or upgrade in recent years?

Northwestern’s $4.5 million Welsh-Ryan lockerroom renovation barely qualifies as it was 15-years overdue and that money spent barely gets us in the 11th spot as far as hoops facilities go. The “major” renovation of Dyche Stadium to Ryan Field was 15 years ago (“opened” in 1997)which in the athletics facilities arms race is considered a generation. The total cost for the largest football renovation in our lifetime? $30 million. Granted, I haven’t adjusted the dollar amount for inflation, but that doesn’t even hit the radar screen in Big Ten renovation parlance.

Heck, and I’d settle for a P.A. system that worked. Seriously though, there is a part of me that likes the charm of doing so much with so little. I have a hard time in these economic times to justify a 9-figure athletic facilities upgrade, but considering NU is the lone wolf in the Big Ten that wouldn’t be siphoning tax dollars from unwanting folks (see TCF Bank Stadium) it is hard for me to say “don’t do it.” I’d love to tap in to Darren Rovell to see what studies exist that equate collegiate national championships – in ANY sport – to increased value of the organization. What’s the value of five lacrosse national championships (which by the way, Northwestern is the home to what many believe is the best women’s lacrosse facility in the nation) to a school? What’s the value of a national champion softball team? We can actually calculate the value of a national championship using other school’s data.

I always feel as though facilities are the chicken-egg debate of collegiate athletics. You want the best facilities to ensure you compete on an even playing field recruiting-wise. If you get the best talent, you’ll win and “the fans will come (or keep coming if you’re established).” The flip side is show me you can draw fan interest presumably by winning and we’ll upgrade your facilities. Let’s face it. When it comes to revenue sports, NU is not on an even playing field. You can eliminate more than half of the potential recruits by simply getting their report cards emailed to you. The question is are the kids we’re recruiting – and as WildcatReport.com noted this week they are indeed of higher athletic caliber (4 recruiting targets we’re in the mix for are among the top 100 in the country) – going to nix NU because of facilities? To a point I would argue “no” – at least in football. We’ve got a dynamic coaching staff and a proven track record. We’ve got character kids who make recruits feel at home. A new scoreboard? Absolutely. Better game day experience? No question. However, I’d rather – in football – we add a “zero” to the marketing budget and spend considerably to raise the purple factor on the conscience of Chicagoland. I’m all for master planning and ensuring facilities make progress, but I think our sequencing is off. Perhaps this all being parallel pathed, but I know the University has not supported a realistic marketing budget for NU Athletics to make any kind of marketplace spend.

Hoops is a slightly different story. When you’re fighting history, everything needs to reek of progress. I absolutely love the “charm” of Welsh-Ryan, but it needs a massive overhaul. The scoreboard is indeed a joke. It reminds me of a dot matrix printer, you know the kind you could hear scanning each line from a different area code. I love the acoustics in that gym as it is a very tough place to play when the students actually decide to show up. If you’ve ever been to Cameron Indoor Stadium then you know that winning tradition trumps everything, because aside from some mahogany wood around the interior, the gyms really aren’t that much different. Duke has prestige from being the best program in America over the past 25 years, Northwestern’s facility is considered rinky-dink because of lack of success. No, it isn’t fair, but neither is life, right?

Let the favorite off-season topic get really started…have fun.

  • Red Dog

    >I actually think it is 4 recruits that crack the top 100.

    Also, I agree with not reducing capacity at Ryan Field. First, I'd like nothing more than to be able to fill it to capacity in its current state. Second, how much money would we lose on the occasions (Ohio State and Illinois games) when it is filled.

  • Mike

    >Nice post. Though the lakefront field is not lacrosse-specific. It is used for soccer also.

  • Prairie Lawyer

    >Long story short is that NU alumni and supporters are going to have to pony up to keep our facilities competetitive.

    I just picked up the Athlon National preview and it has the Cats rated 49th nationally and 7th in the conference. I was disappointed they picked us below Michigan, but they are still predicting a 7 win season.

  • Avery

    >I hope that any Ryan Field renovation includes building two gothic towers on the visitors side, to match the ones already there. That would add a level of charm and character that few other stadiums can match. Bonus points if they can be made into luxury boxes.

  • BG

    >I think the absolute best thing they could do to Ryan Field is rip out the South endzone bleachers, and re-build them "straight across" the back of that end-zone, vs. their current horseshoe shape. That would put the fans right on top of the field, instead of WAY behind the field (essentially behind the old track).

  • Alvious

    >Here are some suggestions on some improvements that can be made to Ryan Field that I feel would improve the game day experience and overall perception of NU football without busting the piggy bank. First, I would replace the "bogus" seats in the NE corner and south end zone with newer sections that have better viewing angles and are closer to the field. Second, I would move the band and student section to the east side, because that is the area that is seen on TV the most, and right now it is usually either empty or filled with the visitor's colors, which looks bad on TV. Third, move the end zone TV cameras to the south end zone so that on place-kicks and such, the viewer sees something other than the empty south end zone seats. Then I would remove the flags on the front of Walker Terrace so people in the lower seats on the west side can actually see the scoreboard. My plans for Welsh-Ryan will be in another post, because I've already taken up too much space. Go 'Cats!

  • MF

    >I would put our dollars toward amenities that help recruiting, which are locker rooms, weight rooms, film rooms and other off-the-field/court areas.

    Welsh-Ryan: A GREAT home arena once we start to win! It's the perfect size, great sight lines, etc. Little improvements? Sure. New scoreboard would be nice. An upgrade in concession stands too. But I would NOT put theatre seats everywhere. You know what people do in theatre seats? They sit! You want the student section lounging around like the season ticket holders do?

    Ryan Field: I would LOVE to see matching towers on the east side, but we're not there yet. In the meantime, good smaller projects are new concessions/bathrooms and a good medium project is clipping the horseshoe endzone seats and putting them straight across the field. (Not sure what we'd do with the ticket office and old Andersen Hall building though.) We have the horseshoe shape because we used to have a track team, which was killed off many years ago. Cost-free, I would love to see us move our student section from the west side to the east side and stick the visitors over in the far south west corner. Let our students and band talk to the visitor bench. Let them be more visible on tv. Let them sit in the sunshine on cold days — the west overhang protection from rain is overrated. Finally, let them resume tailgating in the east lot again!

  • Lake The Posts

    >@mike- indeed I screwed that up…will fix.
    @mf- ahhh, the east lot tailgates – the #1 way to improve gameday atmosphere around the stadium.

    Love the idea of the "straight across seats" in the south so you can be right on top of the action. Would open up a logical new scoreboard spot as well…

  • Lake The Posts

    >@red dog- I stand corrected (AGAIN) you are right – four of the top 100…

  • NorthwesternHighlights.com

    >Yes the scoreboard in WR is outdated. But upgrading it is an awful lot of money to spend on something that doesn't impact recruiting or attendance. I'd put most of the money towards facilities for the student-athletes, but then again, I love WR the way it is.

    The academic centers are pretty nice, as are the new locker rooms. The football locker room may not be among the best in the country, but it's more than suitable. And clean. And while the weight room isn't state of the art, it seems to still be pretty suitable. I don't think we have any facilities that turn recruits away and we don't need to get into an arms war, but it is important to continually make improvements.

    By the way, I wonder how long they can reasonably go without upgrading the visitor's locker room. Is the Big Ten ever going to step in a say we need something more than a small storage area for visiting teams? Not that I'm complaining, particularly when it's only used 5-7 times a year.

  • Erik

    >"Let our students and band talk to the visitor bench. Let them be more visible on tv. Let them sit in the sunshine on cold days — the west overhang protection from rain is overrated."

    This is brillient. I would argue that weather is highly correlated with student attendance at games.

    Also, agreed on the "overhang protection", as it barely covers a tenth of the current student seating.

    In a dream world where attendance would warrent it and money was no object, I would bulldoze the south stands and replace with a new athletic building (no seats). Then, build an upper deck on the East side (with towers). This would upgrade the acoustics, the stadium "look" in and out, and seating (those endzone seats are awful).

  • Mr Marbles

    >Not exactly an architect's blue prints, but I have this in mind: Mr. Marbles Ryan Field Rehab

    The trick is figuring out how to get those Ryan Field shadows coming from all directions like I've illustrated. And, of course, LTP will have to step up his ticket selling campaign to fill it up.

    Have the double decks replicated on both sides, extend the south bleacher down closer to the field (put the band there as well), and a big juicy scoreboard on top of the terrace. All these improvements plus Mrs. Ryan gets to keep her flowers at the north end of the field. Win-Win for everyone.

  • MF

    >Mr. Marbles, Wow! Nice work. I think it would be cool for the south structure — whatever it ends up as — to have a finished exterior that proudly shows a big purple 'N' to Central street. It's fun spending other people's money!

  • NorthwesternHighlights.com

    >The Big Ten Network has a new show called Big Ten Film Vault. It's a 30 minute show featuring historic footage of a given year from the 50s-60s. Unfortunately, not many decent NU seasons of the 6 or so years they have coming up in the next 2 weeks, but it'll be interesting to see if there's any NU footage. I caught the very end of this evening show and it looks like they spend a few minutes on each team. I just don't know if it's every team.

  • Lord Willie

    >As the debate for BXI expansion rages, on we are on the verge of becoming either the 12th, 14th or 16th spot for athletic facilities in the conference. WE need to think big and that includes on-campus facilities for basketball/volleyball/wrestling et al. , land-fill the lake and drop in a 8,900 seat arena, right behind the Crown Center. Imagine the students setting up a “Catville” area filled with tents as they camp-out for one of the 1,500 student seats at center court. The $100MM cost is easily paid for by alumni and purple seat season ticket holders. This allows the Central and Ashland area to become world-class football only facilities. Converting hoops gym to an indoor practice facility, upgrading weight rooms, adding office space and providing more event parking. Baseball goes to the lakefront right next to the lacrosse/soccer complex.

  • Dozer

    >Mr. Marbles, your mock-up and other calls for symmetry isn't all that different from the original vision of Dyche Stadium, via Hail to Purple's home sites page.

    I'd love to see that vision realized. But in the short term, I'm content with some general upgrades rather than a complete reconstruction.

  • William

    >I don't know if anyone on here has read the book Northwestern Wildcat Football, but they have some interesting notes about the original plans when Dyche Stadium was being built. Originally, they planned to have seats in both the north and south endzones. They also planned for towers on the east side to match the current ones on the west side. Finally, they were going to have three levels on each side (ground and two upperdecks). The planned capacity was to be over 80,000. Unfortunately, overrunning costs and subsequent budget cuts forced the university had to reduce the plans. First, they eliminated the third deck, then the endzone seating, and finally the towers and upperdeck on the east side.

    As great as a larger stadium would be, I agree that we first need to fill the current Ryan Field. Hire a professional sports marketing firm and put some money into it. Improving the gameday environment is key too. When I've gone to games at Champaign, Iowa City, and Bloomington, the atmosphere around the schools is great. Evanston doesn't even come close, which needs to change.