The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Northwestern’s facilities initiative is receiving some resistance from the NU Board of Trustees. I think it is important to note here that it really doesn’t seem like the Board is opposed to an NU facilities upgrade. However, it seems the issue is the location of some of these new facilities. Most notably it is the issue of where to put a new football practice facility. According to all reports (and it was mentioned again yesterday by Teddy G. in the Trib) Pat Fitzgerald was pretty much set to take the Michigan job until Northwestern promised him better resources which could make his teams at Northwestern competitive with traditional powers like, say, Michigan. I have to assume this was done because it was clear NU wasn’t going to match Michigan’s salary offer. Now, maybe Coach Fitz may just have used Michigan to leverage NU into boosting his salary and promising these resource upgrades (i.e. a new practice facility by the lake to help recruiting) but, that’s just smart and it does help his team. Now, though, it seems like NU isn’t totally meeting what they promised Fitz. This to me is wrong and it hurts other sports such as men’s and women’s basketball as well.
I know a 2-5 season has some people ticked off at Fitzgerald and upset at the state of NU athletics in general. Maybe, this is even true of some of the Board of Trustee members, I don’t know. But, isn’t a deal a deal? I suppose not if it isn’t in writing, but I’d bet Jim Phillips is sitting somewhere in a white shirt and purple tie right now upset at the way things are going in this area. After all, he had to be the primary individual in convincing Coach Fitz that if he stayed that decision would prove worthwhile. Now, he’s being made to look like a lair or maybe more precisely an exaggerator. Odds are NU gets some sort of new football facility in the near future, but if it isn’t on lake where it can “WOW” potential recruits is it really what Phillips promised Fitzgerald? I’d say no. Even worse for NU’s other sports, it might mean that some of the things which were planned to happen around the current football facility such as a new basketball area or a new basketball practice facility might get crossed out of the plan if the football facility has to occupy the same ground as the current setup.
The bottom line is I understand the lakefill land is extremely valuable property and some might not want to put a facility on it which is really only going to be used by 100 of NU’s 8,000 students and only about 50 employees at most when you factor in trainers, equipment staff, etc. But I’m still bothered by the fact that the Board of Trustees is preventing Jim Phillips from following through on the promise he made to his football coach and via extension the other coaches at Northwestern. If I’m Pat Fitzgerald I’m ticked off at this point and if I’d didn’t get the new facility I was promised in the place it was promised I wouldn’t be so willing to give Northwestern a hometown discount next time a major football power came kocking at my door. Now, you might say who is going to visit Pat with his team at 2-5, but let’s remember Gary Barnett got another job after a 3-9 season. The perception outside of Northwestern is generally that winning six or more games at Northwestern consistently makes you the reincarnation of Vince Lombardi. I don’t know if I agree, but when the ‘Cats rally to a 4-1 finish and win a bowl game this season some university president is going to think so. Therefore, I’d ask the Board of Trustees to step up and help Jim Phillips keep his promise or get ready for a potential embarrassment as the face of the NU program exits stage left because while NU talked a good game they didn’t truly commit to his program as promised.