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ROUNDTABLE: What should Northwestern do with incoming Big Ten media deal money?

The school will jump to earn between $80 and $100 million from the agreement starting in 2025.

2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

On August 18, Kevin Warren announced the Big Ten’s groundbreaking $8 billion media deal set to take effect ahead of the 2023 academic year. Currently, each school takes home about $60 million in revenue from TV deals — by 2025, this number will jump between $80 to $100 million because of the new agreement, per ESPN. What should Northwestern do with this new stream of income? We asked our staffers, and here’s what they had to say:

Sarah Effress: Add men’s and women’s hockey teams

Gavin touches on building an ice rink below so I’ll let him handle that part, but Northwestern is missing its opportunity as a midwestern school to capitalize on the hockey market and it’s killing me. Maybe it’s for fear of competing out the gate with schools like Wisconsin and Minnesota who are evidently college hockey powerhouses, I couldn’t tell you. We really only have basketball to look forward to in the winter, compared to jam-packed fall and spring slates — so why not? Give me hockey in Evanston.

Bradley Locker: Improve non-rev stadiums

My first order of business would fall under the purview of expanding these arenas’ press boxes; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at The J and have had my broadcast notes strewn on a blustery, chilly day. In fact, my computer actually broke (yes, literally) from covering a soccer game in the middle of a torrential downpour in the upper-level seats. Martin Stadium’s and The J’s media areas are largely filled by athletic department personnel, but creating upgraded spaces would be really beneficial. On top of that, adding seating to The J (especially in the outfield) and even the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion for tennis and swimming could help attract more Wildcat fans to watch some top-flight teams in person.

Iggy Dowling: Build a track

I tried to start this off by looking up a list of Power Five schools (or even universities in the U.S., for that matter) that don’t have an outdoor running track. And guess what? There was no easily accessible list because that’s a question you typically ask about high schools. Forget the fact that Northwestern doesn’t technically have a track team; its cross-country athletes train and race individually year-round. Somehow, a decent portion of that is at ETHS. I won’t even get into how beneficial a track would be for the student body, my bias as a runner aside. I’m not asking for SPAC II here, just an on-campus home for the only Wildcat team that doesn’t have one.

Gavin Dorsey: Build a hockey stadium

To be clear, my first three ideas were the exact same as John Olsen’s, Bradley’s and Iggy’s, so I’ll return to an answer I’ve previously suggested. As I wrote in a roundtable slightly over a year ago, I am a native of North Dakota and huge fan of the eight-time national champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. If Ryan Field was slightly north, I would’ve loved to see Northwestern knock down the south bleachers that nobody ever sits in and replace it with the hockey arena, similar to the way that Welsh-Ryan Arena is where the north bleachers would be. Since this likely isn’t a possibility due to Central St. being too close to the stadium, the new arena would likely have to take up a big chunk of the eastern parking lot.

Other non-athletic answers include: more parking spots on campus for students, the new Norris Center we were supposed to get in 2018 and a zipline over the lakefill, among others.

John Olsen: Pay Chris Collins’ buyout (and hire someone better)

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but Collins has been living off of the 2016 NCAA Tournament appearance for far too long. While he has recruited at a better level than anyone in the program’s history based on ratings and rankings, he’s had absolutely zero success with the talent at his disposal. His recent teams have been unfathomably bad in close games and the offense is far too predicated on individuals instead of the team. Dump Collins and bring in an overachieving, innovative coach from a mid-major school, which shouldn’t be too difficult as it feels like five guys who fit that exact profile are auto-generated each year.

Sam Richardson: Embrace a Wildcat tradition

Why not perpetuate our status as the Big Ten’s “nerdiest school” and use the money for sports-centric research? Concussion and CTE research is at its peak nowadays, and Feinberg is already churning out research on its causes and effects.

Aside from the obvious benefits of aiding the health of football as a whole, helping NU become a concussion research hub could bring in more recruits in the future. As safety becomes more and more of a concern for football players and fans alike, Northwestern could use potential foremost expertise in this field to draw in players who care about academics and safety along with football. This move may not be the most popular or flashy, but it may be the most practical and altruistic of the choices.

John Ferrara: Improve fans’ gameday experience

Aside from the obvious and somewhat (mostly) selfish nature of this request, investing in its spectators is an expeditious way for Northwestern’s football program to sign more high-caliber recruits.

Watch almost any interview from a multi-star football recruit about why they committed where they did, and you’ll notice a trend: teenage boys love playing in loud and raucous places. Texas A&M and Penn State are prime examples of programs who, if we’re being honest, have done little on the field to deserve the caliber of recruits they land. What they lack in trophies, though, is made up for by the rumbling fans that pack the 100,000+ seat stadiums where these signees eventually play (and go on to finish a game or two above .500). Now, Ryan Field is no Beaver Stadium when it comes to capacity limits, but it can still pack a noisy punch with a sold out, passionate crowd.

Where does the new money come into play, you might ask. Subsidies, I say! Subsidize the cost of concessions. Subsidize the cost of alumni and non-student tickets! Subsidize the cost of everything that might inhibit a Wildcat fan from attending a game. I’m not saying make everything free, but if my economics classes have taught me anything, it’s that lowering prices is an elite method to increase sales. A consistently packed, animated Ryan Field certainly wouldn’t hurt Pat Fitzgerald’s pitch to elite high school juniors. Besides, it’ll at least leave fans coming back for cheaper snacks.

Jason Boué: Expand into the lake

This money is coming from conference expansion, so it’s only right that the University uses the newfound cash to expand as well. Northwestern already has the beautiful Lakeside Field and the scenic views from the weight rooms in Ryan Fieldhouse, but will those assets be enough to entice recruits in this new Big Ten that reaches from sea to shining sea? The 60 million dollars should be going toward building a state-of-the-art and first-of-its-kind underwater training facility. No other school in the country could boast facilities of that kind, so Northwestern should take advantage of the wealth of resources that lay just east under the sea (really lake, but that’s not as poetic). They say “AND is in our DNA,” so why shouldn’t we be the first university in the nation to boast facilities both above AND below water?

Zain Bando: Bring bigger non-conference games to Evanston

While Northwestern has been a consistent Big Ten winner for a number of years now, it would be great to see some more high-profile games on Northwestern’s schedule prior to Big Ten play starting. Options like Auburn, Alabama, Utah, and Cincinnati are a few that I feel would draw large crowds and get people excited for the season ahead, especially if the Wildcats held on and won those games.

Sarah Meadow: Invest more into women’s sports

It’s no secret that Northwestern’s women’s sports are its most successful programs (read Ben Chasen’s column from earlier this summer). So with this influx of money, it would be great to see the athletic department devote much of it to teams like lacrosse, softball, field hockey, women’s soccer, and volleyball (which is currently 6-0!) to allocate more scholarships, travel budget, more nationally televised games, etc. to give these incredible female athletes the platforms in a major conference that they deserve.