Northwestern men's basketball has an unique history in the Big Ten and the NCAA. Northwestern is known for being the only Power 5 Conference team never to make an NCAA Tournament. For years, Northwestern has worked to get to the NCAA Tournament. Billy Carmody got close to cashing the Wildcats a ticket to the Big Dance a few times. Perhaps, the closest he got was the Big Ten Tournament of 2011, when Northwestern took Ohio State to overtime in the quarterfinals but ended up losing 67-61.
In 2013, the Bill Carmody Era at Northwestern ended and Duke Assistant Coach, Chris Collins stepped in hoping to take Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats just finished their third year under the Chris Collins era. There has been steady improvement in their Big Ten rankings. They've finished the season one spot higher than the year before. In 2014, they finished 11th. In 2015, they finished 10th, and in 2016, they finished 9th. Chris Collins has begun bringing in stellar recruits to the program that have brought the Wildcats success. Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, and Dererk Pardon are just a few of the names that have made an impact.
But there's still one thing missing. The NCAA Tournament. The Big Dance. Northwestern has never experienced it before. The middle of March excitement of Selection Sunday on CBS, the pressure of the tournament and the schedule that comes with it, and all of the excitement that comes with it.
The 'Cats are getting close. Almost every fan and sports analyst will tell you the Wildcats will punch their ticket to the Big Dance within the next few years. They're so close. So in the meantime, what can a University do help their program get there? They have the coach, they have the players, and they have strong recruits coming in.
But the one thing that they can do? Upgrade the facilities. And that's exactly what the department proudly announced on June 15th.
Northwestern released a press release stating that Welsh-Ryan is going to undergo a $110 million dollar renovation to Welsh-Ryan Arena following the 2016-2017 season. The facilities are expected to be completed by the fall of 2018. For a season, Northwestern will have to play elsewhere. But for the players and coaches, it's worth it. This renovation is going to take the basketball program to new levels.
A few days following the announcement, Northwestern hosted a press conference to discuss the renovations and what it means for the Northwestern community. Below are the highlights from the press conference.
If you would like to watch the full press conference, including remarks from head men's basketball coach, Chris Collins, and head women's basketball coach, Joe McKeown, you can find it here.
While the athletic department is still working out the details of the renovation, but as stated in the press release, this is a general overview of what the renovations will look like:
- New seating throughout the arena, with chair-back seats replacing existing wood bleachers
- Wider, more accessible concourses with improved lighting to alleviate congestion
- Improved accessibility for the mobility-impaired, with five new elevators replacing the existing one
- New restrooms, doubling the number of toilet fixtures as well as the addition of accessible family restrooms
- New concession areas with twice as many point-of-sale stations to increase efficiency, along with new food and drink offerings
- State-of-the-art lighting, audio and video capabilities in the arena
- Premium seating areas and expansion of the N-Club, which provides space for pre- and post-game events, by more than 400 percent. The club, which is located on the second floor, will be extended south onto Randy Walker Terrace at Ryan Field and provide expanded hospitality opportunities on football game days.
- Expansion of the building lobby by nearly 50 percent
- A new ticket office
- New locker rooms for men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball
- New offices for men's and women's basketball
- Expansion of usable court space in both the main arena and fieldhouse.
This renovation is going to change the face of Northwestern basketball. It has been a long time coming and it is a statement of dedication commitment from the athletic department and the donors that Northwestern is ready to take the next step.
So, Wildcat fans, enjoy your last season sitting in the Welsh-Ryan bleachers. In a year, they'll be gone. But the charm of Welsh-Ryan Arena isn't going anywhere. It's just getting a little upgrade.