Last Saturday a number of intra-city of intra-state basketball games took place in and around Chicago. Northwestern fans were obviously focused on the Wildcats matchup with DePaul, but UIC played Loyola and NIU hosted Chicago State as well. As I think about these matchups, I can’t help but think all these teams should play each other at some point during the season. Coaches complain all the time about how hard it is to schedule non-conference games and what a hassle travel is, yet teams right next to each other don’t play. It doesn’t make sense.
This year Northwestern will play DePaul and Chicago State. In the past the ‘Cats have played a home and home series with the UIC Flames, but have not played Loyola in the Bill Carmody era. Rumor has it some rift exists. Personally, I think NU should play all the Chicago area schools. I think it would benefit every school in the Chicago area if they were to play each other. Chicago is without a doubt a pro sports town. People get excited about the Bears, the Bulls, and the Cubs. As a result of this fan focus, the media coverage is geared heavily towards the pro teams in town. This time of year with the NBA and NFL seasons in full swing it is especially hard to get coverage. One way coverage is generated, though, is when the Chicago area schools play each other. After all, Saturday generated nice press in multiple papers and on TV before the games. That’s rare. Usually the best NU and the others can hope for is a post game recap, more and more lifted from the AP.
Now, is this press coverage going to magically boost attendance for these schools? Probably not. Although, despite it being just a hair over 4,000 people the fact is the contest against DePaul was NU’s biggest crowd of the year. Games against UIC and Loyola would likely have a similar total attendance. Chicago State is something of a difference story, but if the Cougars seriously want to compete in Division I garnering the attention of playing local opponents can only help. You might not know for example that 5-8 160 lbs. Chicago State guard David Holston is one of the top scorers in the NCAA. I mean with the Cougars playing in near obscurity how could you? But if his team were to face off against its local opponents and Holston scored 28 points each time, he’d garner a little more attention from the various Chicago media sources.
Of course, this isn’t about Chicago State. My real concern is about Northwestern. I want people to show up at Welsh-Ryan Arena and cheer the ‘Cats. Now, many would say the difference between having 3,200 people for Central Arkansas and having 4,200 for DePaul isn’t significant, but I believe it is. It is significant because each new fan in the arena offers an opportunity to sell the program. Also, Northwestern has many fans who only show up for what they consider “big games” that’s relative at NU obviously, but what they mean is the Big Ten (minus Penn State), the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and DePaul. If you add other local rivalries, and make them true rivalries (perhaps a trophy), then those people will show up. Don’t get me wrong, I want these people to show up every game, but I’m a realist.
Also, not to sound like a complainer, because when I show up to Welsh-Ryan I enjoy myself, but I’m sure many of you are like me and would enjoy seeing NU play Loyola more than seeing NU play Texas A&M-CC. I want to win and I don’t really object to directional schools, but if Northwestern wants to reach the top half of the Big Ten they ought to be able to defeat any mid-major even one who is jazzed for a local rival.
Finally, creating buzz for college hoops around Chicago could do a lot of good for families looking for cheap entertainment. When people ask me what I’m doing on some winter evening and I say, “going to the NU basketball game” they are shocked they haven’t heard about the game. The reason is, as we’ve established, the Chicago press isn’t too excited about college hoops. That’s too bad because NU basketball is one of the best deals going. To be able to attend a major college sporting event for less than $20 a ticket is a spectacular deal. I strongly suspect were more people aware of what NU offered more would take advantage. Of course, since NU’s own media budget is so limited they need the free press the media provides. The best way to get is taking on local opponents. After all, I strongly guess the stories last Saturday about the impending NU-DePaul game will be significantly larger than the one’s next Monday abut the impending NU-UMKC game. That is, if pregame NU-UMKC stories exist at all. I’d say the odds are at best we’ll see little capsules with stats.
Check out ESPN.com on CSU’s David Holston. He comes to NU February 4th. I’d say you should get your tickets now, but I’d be slightly over estimating the level of anticipation that game is generating.