by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahrosenblum)
As much as Northwestern fans might want to say otherwise, Evanston doesn’t usually shine when it’s put under the lights. Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field possess a certain charm, but rows and rows of empty seats hardly send the same message.
And yet, these sins notwithstanding, the television gods are suddenly smiling down upon Northwestern. First, Sarah Andreychik of the Big Ten sends out an e-mail announcing that the Big Ten Network will be airing at least 60 soccer games during the 2012 season, an apparently unprecedented achievement. And what color will those television cameras key in on the most? Purple or whatever bluish color comes up when Northwestern is featured on the tube. The Wildcats are matched only by the Buckeyes, of Ohio State, for the conference lead with four television appearances this season. Three of Northwestern’s road contests — trips to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana — will be aired live on the Big Ten Network, as will a lakeside clash against Ohio State. While other Big Ten schools will be featured just once, and even heavyweights like Indiana will be featured just twice, Northwestern will have four chances to make an impression under a national spotlight. That’s a tremendous opportunity for Tim Lenahan and his team. And they obviously earned it. Winning the Big Ten Championship — both in the regular season and the postseason — is obviously a damn good way of securing more television time. For Northwestern’s men’s soccer program, it truly has reaped its own rewards.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern men’s basketball team also reaped its own rewards. After inspiring Big Ten Tournament and National Invitation Tournament runs — well wait; I guess that isn’t really true — the Wildcats earned a prime time showing against the Maryland Terrapins. Seriously though, Northwestern has steadily climbed the ranks of the Big Ten over the past decade and has now leapfrogged enough teams to make it into the ranks of those who are truly worthy of national television. Even one miserable performance – such as Northwestern’s blowout loss to Washington – is no longer enough to catapult the Wildcats from television prominence. The television gods are apparently merciful, so while Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Penn State will all play on the nearly-impossible-to-find ESPNU, Northwestern will take on Maryland in front of a national audience on ESPN2. The fact that the networks think that the Wildcats, and their perennially endearing bubble act, are now worthy of the big stage is something that ought to leave the folks in Evanston feeling pretty good about themselves. And of course, God bless the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for bringing us such an unusual matchup. To see those two teams match up will be flat-out weird. Regardless though, the announcements of the past several weeks represent a huge step forward for Northwestern, as it continues to be presented with a big stage with which to shine on.
Even the football team, after competing in the 2011 TicketCity Bowl under the relative anonymity of ESPNU, got to play Texas A&M on ESPN2 last New Year’s Eve. Given how many wonderfully close games Northwestern has provided the sports world with over the past decade, such coverage seems long overdue. And this season, the Wildcats will open their 2012 schedule with another nationally televised game, this time against the Orange of Syracuse on ESPN2.
Apparently, Northwestern, recovering from a rough summer in which Willie the Wildcat was left out of the Big Ten’s “Call Me Maybe” music video, has regained its mojo. Willie may have missed out on his chance to copy Justin Bieber’s dance moves on YouTube, but when it matters most, the Wildcats will be right where they belong, under the lights, whether their fans show up or not.