On Monday, when Northwestern announced a $110-million renovation on Welsh-Ryan Arena to be completed by the fall of 2018, it signaled a commitment to Chris Collins and the basketball program. Our very own Ben Goren wrote that Northwestern's "administration is more invested in basketball now than it has been ever before."
What this renovation also leaves us with is doubt for the 2017-2018 season, ironically the season that many have pegged to be Northwestern's best chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance. With construction beginning after the 2016-17 basketball season, the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena will not be ready until the start of the 2018 school year. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options for Northwestern, though none of them will be particularly thrilling for students or fans alike.
Just this past year, Clemson played 15 games in Bon Secours Wellness Arena (also known as "The Well") in Greenville, South Carolina, as Littlejohn Coliseum underwent a $63.5 million renovation with plans to reopen in the fall of 2016. The Well has a capacity of approximately 15,000 people, and to ensure a Clemson home atmosphere, students, band members and cheerleaders were bused to each game. With the drive from Clemson to Greenville being approximately an hour, head coach Brad Brownell understood that two-hour practices would turn into seven or eight hour days; most of the Clemson practices were still held on campus.
Two years ago, TCU had a similar experience when Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena underwent an $80 million renovation. The Horned Frogs men's basketball team spent the 2014-2015 season playing at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center in Fort Worth, typically used for high school games. It was just a 20-minute drive down I-20 from campus. The center has a hardwood court and seats 5,000. TCU and the school district paid for a new court and had to install 35-second shot clocks above each basket, and the court did not feature the TCU logo.
TCU's temporary arena has the least ambitious midcourt logo in the game, and I love it. pic.twitter.com/JSikecXC8E— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 10, 2015
North Carolina State will undergo the same situation in 2016, as the 65-year old Reynolds Coliseum is going through a $35 million renovation. The athletics department announced that women's basketball and volleyball will play most of their home games next season at Broughton High School's Holliday Gymnasium, just a mile and a half from campus. Broughton features one of the largest high school gyms in the state, with capacity to seat over 3,000 fans.
In a perfect world, Northwestern would spend a season playing at the United Center, to further reaffirm that the Wildcats are in fact Chicago's Big Ten Team. Athletic Director Jim Phillips would absolutely love this. But the college basketball season spans from early November to March, and the Blackhawks and Bulls use the United Center from October to April. Would the United Center be able — or willing — to squeeze in 18-20 more games in between two professional sports, concerts, and other events? Highly, highly unlikely. Northwestern playing one game at the United Center, as it will this year against Dayton, is a reasonable expectation. Students are intrigued by an NBA stadium, and fans are likewise. However, a lot of games at the United Center causes the stadium to lose its intrigue, and it's quite a haul for Northwestern students to get to the Near West Side of Chicago.
More realistic is the new McCormick Place Events Center, scheduled to open in 2017. It will serve as DePaul's home arena as well as an events center for McCormick Place, and will hold 10,000 people. In 1983, Northwestern played at DePaul while Welsh-Ryan was being renovated and then went on to the NIT, although the 2017-2018 Wildcats will have their sights set higher. It's roughly a 40-minute drive from the Evanston campus without traffic.
Of course, the building of the new McCormick Center will free up the Allstate Arena, where DePaul currently plays. Located a little more than half an hour from campus in Rosemont, this multi-purpose arena wouldn't be a bad place for Northwestern to spend a year. Allstate is clearly capable of hosting college basketball, and would draw fans from the greater Chicago area.
Another college option would be the Joseph J. Gentile Arena, home of the Loyola Ramblers. It holds nearly 4,500 people and is just a short 15-minute drive down Sheridan Road from Northwestern's campus. In terms of proximity and convenience for players and students, this is the best option. Gentile Arena is a painless "L" ride away from Evanston.
If Northwestern wants to look local, Beardsley Gymnasium, home of Evanston Township High School, is a possibility. Beardsley holds roughly 2,000 people but has available seating around the entire court. Nearby New Trier High School in Winnetka, the school of incoming freshman walk-on Tino Malnati, could be another option. However, New Trier's Gates Gymnasium isn't well equipped to provide parking or seating for college athletics.
It's hard to imagine that Northwestern will go a similar route as N.C. State and play at a high school gym, and the program clearly has a significant amount of money to look into a bigger arena. The Northwestern athletic department is holding a press conference Thursday regarding Monday's announcement of a $110+ million renovation. We should have a better idea where Northwestern will play following the press conference.