NU makes historic investment in athletics

Northwestern University has historically kept its athletics programs toward the bottom of its grand hierarchy. However, that has changed ever since Morton Schapiro became the university's president back in 2008. NU is full invested in each of its athletic department, a historic movement for the university's future.

Northwestern athletics have historically been but an afterthought on campus, placed near the bottom of the university's hierarchy.

That is reflected in Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena, two aging buildings past their primes that have seemingly ignored. University resources have primarily been allocated toward academics rather than athletics.

Forbes Magazine's most recent college rankings tab Northwestern as America's 22nd-best college. Given NU's prestige, academics will always be at the forefront, but the athletic department has boast some impressive figures, too.

NU football has reached four consecutive bowl games, a program record. The men's basketball program has participated in the postseason for a record four straight seasons. The women's lacrosse program just won its seventh national championship in eight years. Just to name a few.

The university is making a point to invest in its rising athletic department, a historic movement in Northwestern history.

Since athletic director Jim Phillips and president Morton Schapiro entered Northwestern in 2008, the athletic department has launched a wide-ranging marketing campaign, which has increased the department's brand, and also locked in head football coach Pat Fitzgerald -- a hot commodity for vacant jobs each offseason -- through 2020.

The greatest investment, though, is a financial one; $220 million pledged toward a multi-sport complex to be built along the shores of Lake Michigan on Northwestern's campus.

"This is transformational for our entire university," head football coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This is an opportunity for our community to come together. First and foremost it's an opportunity for our students and student-athletes to completely be unified and just have an unbelievable community feel on the best campus in the country. This will take our recreation and our facilities for all our students to a place that they've never been here before."

Northwestern's football program grosses more than any other sport, and Phillips hasn't shied away from admitting it's the "engine" that drives the department.

The new athletic complex will offer a new home for Northwestern's football program -- its offices, meeting rooms, and an indoor and outdoor practice field, among other amenities which will greatly benefit the players and coaching staff.

"This is a game-changer," Fitzgerald said. "This completely changes the landscape of Big Ten football and college football. No one else will have the ability to talk of a state-of-the-art facility in the location that we have."

The key impact for the NU football program is in recruiting; the complex will be a sell to prospective athletes. For the current Wildcat athletes, it creates a convenient home on campus, close to classes and dorms.

For the entire athletic department, but especially the football program, it's a big win for the future.

"It's similar to anything in our life, you need to invest in it if you hope for some return in that investment," said Phillips. "If you're under-resourced and under-supported, you'll have very little chance to have success. If you support it and give it the resources it needs, it really gives an injection that allows you to compete at the very highest level. It certainly will be that injection for football, but it will be for all 18 other sports."

Northwestern football has enjoyed sustained success at a level never seen in its history, and that's supported by program stability. The new facility opens the door for a greater future.

"I think this is a game-changer in every regard," Northwestern president Morton Schapiro said. "It's obviously a big step forward, a major step forward for our football program."

For Northwestern University as a whole, the complex is a crowned jewel to the lakefront campus; something to be showcased during each tour for prospective students.

An investment has been made in the future of Northwestern athletics, and the university is in full support of its sports programs. It's a sign of change and the beginning of a bright future.

"We are very pleased," said NU board of trustees chairman William Osborn. "We think this is great for our athletic programs, this is great for our students, this is great for our university."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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