I can’t honestly say I’ve loved every move Jim Phillips has made since being named Northwestern’s athletic director. However, I think today is a good day to give him credit for the overall excellent job he has done thus far. Obviously, his efforts to get Northwestern into the Outback Bowl were huge. I think NU deserved the bid, but as last year proved deserving a bowl bid and receiving the bid are two different things. It is especially significant as the Outback Bowl didn’t just fail to invite NU last year, but also failed to invite a Big Ten Champion NU team in 2000. For whatever reason it seemed the Outback Bowl felt NU wasn’t a good choice for a bowl invite and Phillips changed their mind. I suspect this was a tireless process and I am very thankful Phillips succeeded at his task. Getting the chance to play on New Year’s Day against a traditional SEC power is a great showcase for NU’s football program.
With the women’s basketball team currently 6-2 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, Phillips also has to get credit for his hire of Joe McKeown. By all accounts McKeown was an expensive hire, but he seems to worth the price. A women’s basketball program which had floundered near the bottom of the Big Ten for more than a decade now looks poised for a postseason run. With the increasing national exposure of women’s basketball across the country (i.e. select women’s games on ESPN) this is a sport NU should do everything possible to compete in at a high level. Phillips hiring McKeown seems to have been a major step in that direction.
Phillips also deserves credit for some creative marketing work. For example, NU’s weekly show on WGN radio. It seems NU doesn’t have the financial wherewithal or desire to have a televised coaches program, but the opportunity to promote our athletic programs to the Chicago area on WGN is a good start. Phillips and his staff also tried new things to make football tailgating more fun outside of the just the East and West lots with large screen TVs in the lot at SPAC. I assume that was something of a significant-effort venture and Phillips deserves credit for taking a unique step. Of course, any discuss of Phillips’s efforts has to include the propose Wrigley Field football game. To be honest, I’m not crazy about playing it against Illinois as I think it’ll turn into a neutral site game to a much stronger degree than if at Ryan Field. However, the proposed idea of NU playing football at Wrigley for a game is something I see as a potentially positive media experience. NU’s baseball team actually got some media attention when they played Notre Dame and U.S. Cellar Field and college baseball is a pretty under the radar sport as far as the Chicago media is concerned.