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Chicago Daily Herald
NU, DePaul just might balance revenue, intimacy
Normally when the subject is college-basketball venues, the word cringe-worthy comes to mind because of the compromises made.
(Is cringe-worthy two words or one word in a two-word package?)
Uh, where was I?
Oh, yeah, pages are turning at a rapid rate in the wide world of local arenas.
With apologies to the Temptations, "People moving out, people moving in, why, all because of the color of their green."
Money is at the root of just about everything that happens in college sports these days, and homecourt changes are no exception … bigger is better.
Except that it's not.
DePaul played a home game in the Allstate Arena for the last time Saturday, and Northwestern played a home game in the current edition of Welsh-Ryan for the last time Sunday.
The NU game was an example of how pairing a good team with a compact playground can explode into an emotional, energetic, electric environment.
Homecourt advantage? Wow, was it ever. The crowd willed NU into the final seconds before Big Ten champion Purdue gutted out a 69-65 victory.
NU is moving out for a season as the building is remodeled. DePaul is relocating from Rosemont after 37 years to a new arena near McCormick Place.
Ironically, Northwestern will play in the Allstate Arena for a year before moving back to the "new" Welsh-Ryan.
Good news accompanies the current facility frenzy … as in actually downsizing while upscaling.
The Allstate Arena - the Rosemont Horizon when DePaul moved in - seats 17,000; the Blue Demons' new arena will seat 10,000.
Northwestern's plan calls for Welsh-Ryan to lower capacity by about 1,100 seats.
The big thing in Evanston isn't seats subtracted; it's the thousands not added.
Less is more - wilder, crazier and especially louder - though it's difficult to convince university administrators it's better when more seats generally mean more revenue.
DePaul embarked on the big-is-beautiful trend early by moving from tiny Alumni Hall gym to the suburbs.
The sport's trend became to build big arenas on campus or move to big pro arenas. The North Carolina and Kentucky buildings come to mind, but so does Illinois moving into the 16,000-seat Assembly Hall way back in 1963.
With no samples yet of DePaul's new place and Northwestern's new old place, it's hard to tell what those atmospheres will be like.
The hope is that DePaul found a nice midpoint between homey Alumni Hall and the NBA-style Allstate Arena.
The hope is that Northwestern will retain the intimacy that Welsh-Ryan Arena has featured.
NU can limit arena size because with fewer students than the norm in the Big Ten, fewer tickets need to be allocated for them.
Still, with Northwestern's basketball fortunes rising toward truly being Chicago's Big Ten team, it would be tempting to build a whole new arena with a whole lot more seats.
Instead, be sure, NU will figure out other ways to generate more revenue.
Maybe Northwestern and DePaul will be among the few prestigious academic institutions that play big-time basketball in smaller, cozier, gym-like arenas.
Yeah, maybe the Chicago area will be lucky and our most prominent college-basketball programs will feature balances between new-school economics and old-school atmosphere.
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