Northwestern Finally Understanding Football’s Importance

Northwestern Wildcats New Facility

Northwestern Athletics

For years Northwestern’s facilities have paled in comparison to its Big Ten brethren and for decades it ensured the Wildcats’ place in the conference hierarchy.

But Northwestern isn’t the Northwestern of old when it comes to football. No longer is it the laughing stock of the Big Ten and the college football world.

You may not know, but since 1995 Northwestern has won three Big Ten championships or co-championships and in seven out of the last eight seasons has been bowl eligible. Meanwhile, the Wildcat program has been among the national leaders in football graduation rate.

And under current coach Pat Fitzgerald the program is flourishing.

In seven years at his alma mater, the ‘Cats have won 56.2 percent of their games. No, that’s nothing to brag about for most successful football programs, but for a program like Northwestern’s that was down for so long and has academic standards – yes even for its football players – unparalleled by most in college football circles, that’s a big achievement.

No longer is the private school in Evanston perennially bringing up the rear in the Big Ten standings.

Instead it’s a Northwestern program that has made five straight bowl appearances and with plenty of key personnel returning for the 2013 season, it’s a safe bet even more success is on the horizon.

With such success, the university has finally made the move to invest in its athletic department, particularly its football program.

In September of 2012, Northwestern officials okayed a staggering $225 million multi-purpose facility to be constructed on the shores of Lake Michigan at the north end of the campus that will benefit the football program as well as other sports teams at the school and the general student population.

Fitzgerald called the commitment a “game-changer.”

“This is going to be transformational,” he said. “It allows our student-athletes the opportunity to be in a world-class facility that’s unmatched anywhere in college athletics.”

Not only has NU crawled out of the Big Ten’s cellar, but its football facilities will now be moving out of the Dark Ages and into the 21st Century.

Last summer an ESPN.com article ranked Northwestern’s facilities last in the Big Ten.

That prompted Fitzgerald to say, “We’re going from worst to first. We’ve been pretty good so far. Hopefully, this will take us to great.”

I wouldn’t go as far as the ultra-enthusiastic Fitzgerald, especially since Ryan Field – where Northwestern plays its home games – will never lure top recruits away from some of the other conference schools.

However, having a facility like the one still in the final planning stages and a few years from opening will at the very least begin to somewhat level the playing field for Fitzgerald’s program.

Northwestern still has a long way to go to bring its football facilities up-to-date, but this multi-purpose facility is definitely an excellent start.

Doug Griffiths is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Doug is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths and Facebook.

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