by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
After working through details since Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips first announced his "master plan" for facilities in October 2010, the plan has finally been passed. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune reported around midnight last night that the NU board of trustees had voted in favor of the plan, which will give NU an on-campus athletic facility, among other changes, for a total price tag between $225-$250 million.
The facility will be placed on the lakefill with views of the lake and the Chicago skyline, and will include a football practice field, football offices and a weight room, as well as practice space for lacrosse and soccer. After that is completed, NU will renovate Welsh-Ryan Arena.
So what does this all mean? We'll go into more later, but it's obviously a huge step forward for Northwestern athletics and it shows that the board of trustees, which has been hesitant to give so much money to athletics, is now willing to back the plan financially. According to Greenstein, NU has the ninth-largest endowment in the country at $7.18 billion. However, the Wildcats have some of the worst facilities in major college football, and with everything being so far off campus and so unimpressive, it was a major disadvantage in recruiting.
The word "game-changer" was used a lot in Greenstein's article, and while that may seem like an exaggeration, the effects may actually be that drastic. Northwestern will always have inherent recruiting disadvantages built in — tougher academic requirements, lack of tradition and size of the fan base, to name a few — but perhaps the biggest disadvantage that it can solve has now been taken care of. The football, soccer and lacrosse programs can now sell a state-of-the-art practice facility on campus; the value of that can't be understated. The basketball program, meanwhile, looks like it will finally get a modern gym, or at least one that is in much better shape than Welsh-Ryan; again, an invaluable recruiting tool that has hurt the Cats for a long time.
There is still a long way to go, as the drawings haven't been announced yet — a source told Greenstein they look "spectacular" — and they won't be ready for a few years, at least. However, this is a true game-changer for Northwestern athletics and one that could help elevate the football and basketball programs in recruiting and in overall success.
UPDATE: Northwestern confirmed that the plan was finalized and released drawings of what the facility will look like.
Here are the pictures and a link to the release.