If he builds it, they will come

In this Purple Wildcats Insider column, Sylvan Lane explains the obstacles to new basketball facilities.

"If you build it, he will come."

For many Northwestern fans and writers, the future of the Wildcats basketball program has become synonymous with Ray Kinsella's famous call to action in Field of Dreams.

Even before Bill Carmody was fired, fans and writers routinely criticized the Northwestern administration for failing to upgrade Welsh-Ryan Arena. It seems to serve its purpose well enough, but pales in aesthetic comparison to the Big Ten's, newer, sexier facilities like Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor and Value City Arena in Columbus.

Now that Carmody has departed and Northwestern's journey to a "better destination" is underway, the calls for a new basketball complex have grown even louder. The logic: If you build it, they will come. In this case, the "they" are recruits who would normally overlook Northwestern for schools with jumbotrons and seatbacks, and a coaching staff that can lead the team to greater heights.

It would be fantastic if sometime in the next few years, the school made an investment in a new basketball stadium. But for now, the focus should be on putting a better product on the court rather than making a better court for the product. After all, it's not the diminutive size of Welsh-Ryan that's held back the Wildcats from making the tournament — it's the Wildcats themselves.

Building a new stadium has its undeniable benefits for the team, fans, students, and the administration alike, which do include garnering more interest from recruits. Even having a plan for a new facility can help bring a coach to Evanston who may be worried about committing to the program.

However, planning – let alone building – a new stadium is a lengthy process. There are blueprints and permits to be drawn up along with meetings and negotiations to be made. And as anyone who has spent any time on Northwestern's campus will tell you, there's not too much space to work with.

Remember, this is a school hemmed in by a city on three sides and a lake on one, a school that had to build more land just to be able to expand, and a school that's currently in the process of constructing an athletic facility, a music and communications building, a visitor center, and green-spaces.

Most importantly, building a new stadium is going take a lot more money. This means convincing a lot of people to make a substantial investment in a program that hasn't made the NCAA Tournament once in 75 chances. The best way to do this is by improving the program with a smart coaching hire.

Regardless of how incredible this future basketball stadium could be, nothing will have as much immediate impact as picking the right coach to lead this team into the 2013 season and beyond. After all, the new stadium isn't a sure thing, but next season is.

The right coach is someone who can accurately assess the assets and burdens of the Northwestern basketball program, establish how he can use them to his advantage, and thrive. Jim Phillips would not have fired Bill Carmody if he did not believe that someone somewhere could elevate this team to greater heights, and he's certainly earned the benefit of the doubt during his tenure at Northwestern.

Essentially, the facilities debate boils down to chicken and egg game, but in this case, there's a clear need for one over the other. Northwestern can have a new coach in a matter of seconds. A new stadium will take years.

Who the new coach will be is still unknown, but if he can improve the Northwestern basketball program, a new stadium may not be that far off, bringing the success and money needed to make it happen.

If he builds it, they will come.


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