Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why can’t DePaul play in Lincoln Park?

I find it amusing to learn of the negotiations taking place about where the men’s basketball program at DePaul University will play its games for the long-term.

Blue Demons basketball hasn 't felt the same since they left Alumni Hall. Photograph provided by DePaul University

Because I always thought it short-sighted and stupid when DePaul, back in their late-1970s moment of glory when they actually were among the elite basketball programs in the nation, moved their games from the campus in the Lincoln Park neighborhood out to that generic-looking stadium in suburban Rosemont.

I STILL THINK of it as the Horizon – even though I’m aware it has some corporate name attached to it. And I can’t blame the Blue Demons officials for wanting to get out of there and back to a location in the city proper.

Yet I wish it were possible for the university to come up with a plot of land that actually would fit in with the campus. Isn’t part of the reason for having athletic programs that they’re supposed to bring the student body together – unifying them behind something?

What good does it do if the basketball team plays at a stadium that doesn’t have easy access to the students living on campus? And before you argue that DePaul reached out to a bigger market, how many basketball fans in the Chicago-area care that much about DePaul?

We’re either alums of another university and follow their programs (Personally, I say, "Go Illinois Wesleyan Titans!!!"), or some of us could care less about the collegiate game and prefer to follow the Chicago Bulls (no matter how dreadful they play) during the months between baseball seasons!

SO I JUST can’t see why city officials should be getting all worked up over the idea that the Blue Demons want to have a new stadium built in which their men’s programs could play.

They’re not Chicago’s team. They’re DePaul’s team, and those students and alumni ought to have easy access to them.

All this comes to my mind because of the reports Friday by Crain’s Chicago Business that the Bulls have worked out a deal with the city to make it financially viable to build a practice facility on land adjacent to the United Center.

No longer will the Bulls be the team that trains in far north suburban Deerfield (although I’m sure there are some season ticket holders who prefer that location).

THE CHICAGO BULLS will train in Chicago, which likely pleases the spirit of Richard J. Daley – who once told the Chicago Bears they’d have to give up the city identity if they really dared move to a stadium in suburban Arlington Heights (in the end, they didn’t go).

But it has some people believing that the training facility could also serve as an arena with some 10,000 seats (far less than the 22,000-plus that the United Center has) that would be perfect for a DePaul basketball program.

There also are those who believe that a new arena for DePaul could be constructed near the McCormick Place convention center on the fringe of the Bronzeville neighborhood.

I have heard Rosemont officials insist that DePaul isn’t going anywhere – they have a contract to play there through 2015. Which probably is just enough time to construct an arena and have it ready for the Blue Demons’ use come 2016.

YET WOULD IT really make much of a difference to the current student body if their school’s team is playing in Rosemont, the West Side or Bronzeville?

None of them are locations on campus. While I understand why DePaul would like to have an arena like the UI-C Pavilion (with its 6,958 seats), you have to note that arena is actually located in proximity to the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

If anything, DePaul officials ought to be thinking in terms of how they can construct the New Alumni Hall (the building where the men’s team played from its construction in 1956 until their move to Rosemont, and where other school teams played until its demolition in 2000).

I know the site of the old building is now the newly-built student union. And real estate in Lincoln Park is excessively pricey – which would make a campus-based arena a more costly option.

BUT THE SPIRIT of that building may well be what is needed to give those Blue Demons teams a jolt back to the days when Ray Meyer’s teams were actually the highlight of the Chicago sports scene.

Instead of lagging behind the Northwestern Wildcats, the UI-C Flames, the Loyola Ramblers (with that NCAA title in 1963) and even on occasion the Chicago Maroons for the city’s winter athletic attention.


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