Chicago is a Big Ten city. When it comes to collegiate athletics, the close proximity to the member universities and the large alumni bases make the Midwestern hub Big Ten ground. They often hold the men’s basketball Big Ten Tournament at the United Center and the league offices are even in suburban Chicago.
But could DePaul‘s new arena, as well as their move to the new basketball centered Big East, make a dent in the Big Ten’s stranglehold on Chicago?
DePaul basketball has been an invisible entity for the last decade. They don’t compete and they don’t get any attention, even with noted program rebuilder Oliver Purnell about to enter his fifth season with the team as head coach. It is actually very fitting that a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in nine years also plays its home games 15 miles from its own campus, at The Allstate Arena. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a phrase that has been thrown around quite a bit when discussing DePaul’s basketball team in terms of their relationship with the city of Chicago and with its own student body. DePaul only averages 8,300 fans in attendance for home games, just 45% of the suburban arena’s capacity. Students and fans don’t go out to see the team, either because it is such a trek or because the team has been so bad, or likely both.
However, earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced the city’s plans to build a new arena in the city, near the McCormick Center. Depaul will play its home games there and have naming rights for the arena, which is supposed to begin construction next year and be ready for the 2016 season.
Will the new arena on the lakefront raise interest in DePaul basketball?
It is hard to say for sure, but it certainly can’t hurt the program to move back into the city where people can actually watch them play. It has been documented how much the lack of a legitimate home court has hurt the Blue Demons in recruiting. There is such an abundance of basketball talent in Chicago alone that DePaul should be able to attract, but these young players aren’t going to travel out of the city to watch a bad team play in front of a half empty arena. There is absolutely nothing exciting about what DePaul is right now that would attract talented high school players from Chicago with other, more relevant programs courting them as well.
But a new facility could revitalize the program and remind Chicago that the DePaul basketball program does indeed exist. The possible concerns about the Big Ten conference in the DePaul return to the city are hard to know for sure. If DePaul can become a competent or even fun program, playing in a brand new lakefront arena, they are going to get attention from Chicagoans and definitely break the Big Ten’s monopoly on the third biggest media market in the country.
Still, DePaul will continue to toil away at the Allstate Arena for three more seasons, before they even make the move to Chicago. But it could certainly be argued that down the road, DePaul could bring the Big Ten some competition in Chicago when they come out of their over a decade period of irrelevancy and return to the Windy City.