On Saturday, the Northwestern Board of Trustees officially approved plans to construct a multipurpose athletic complex on the university’s main campus.
The master plan includes an indoor practice facility, fitness and weight rooms and an outdoor practice field.
“I think this is a game-changer in every regard,” Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said. “It’s obviously a big step forward, a major step forward for our football program.”
Schapiro did not offer a timetable on the project because of the massive fundraising effort ahead. Among the final obstacles: $220 million in overall costs.
Still, Schapiro considers it a worthwhile investment given its benefits to the athletic program and the Northwestern community. The plan, first announced in October 2010, literally required years of deliberation from all involved parties.
“We think these things out in great detail, and we take our time, and we get them right,” Schapiro said.
The approval is a victory for athletic director Jim Phillips, the major proponent of revamping the school’s athletic facilities. According to Board of Trustees representative Bill Osborn, Phillips was tasked with planning how athletics could help to create a better university community.
After years of work, Phillips succeeded. He struggled to contain his excitement upon hearing the news after waking up Saturday with his “fingers crossed.”
“It is an absolute investment in this department of athletics and recreation,” Phillips said. “It will absolutely touch the lives of every kid on this campus, now and well into the future, and that’s why this is such a historic and important date. It truly is transformational.”
NU, in its current state, has one of the poorest football facilities in the Big Ten. Now, Phillips expects future recruits to be shown, and be attracted to, the state of the art complex.
Phillips noted that the change in location serves as an additional benefit. The football team currently trains near Ryan Field— about a mile away from main campus. With a practice field near classrooms, players’ in week activities can run “seamlessly.” Not only that, the football team will be more closely connected with the rest of the student body.
But, as “multipurpose” would indicate, the effects of this decision extend beyond the football program. Schapiro noted that some Northwestern teams – including the seven-time national champion women’s lacrosse squad – have no locker rooms next to their home stadium at Lakeside Field. Instead, they are forced to walk to nearby Patten Gymnasium. That will change, and the university can use a new indoor venue that fits 2,500 people in a variety of ways.
Football, of course, figured largely in the overall equation. Phillips, through his apparent joy, made that clear.
“I’ve said it publicly and privately, football is the engine that drives this department,” he said. “It’s the emotional engine. It’s the financial engine.”
The finished product is a long way off. Regardless, Saturday marked a major improvement to Northwestern’s athletic department, especially its engine.