Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chicago, that college hoops desert

UIC played Loyola tonight. I don't know who won. It was a matchup of perennial Horizon League also-rans and frequent cellar-dwellers. I wanted to go. But it started at 7pm, not 7:30, so I wouldn't have been able to be on time for tipoff in Rogers Park.

Chicago has four schools with Division I men's basketball teams. Why are they all so bad?

The Big East Conference has 16 member schools. Nine of these schools are in major cities, and another two are in New Jersey, less than 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. Nearly all of them are competitive in basketball. How does Chicago have four basketball teams that are consistently mediocre or terrible? Forget a college football playoff, President Obama. This is the issue you should investigate!

The Big East's urban schools are: U of Cincinnati, DePaul U., Georgetown U., U of Louisville, Marquette U., U of Pittsburgh, St. John's U., U of South Florida, and Villanova U. I didn't count Providence College or Syracuse University because those are smaller cities. Rutgers U. and Seton Hall U. are in New Jersey.

New York has St. John's, Manhattan and Hofstra. Philadelphia has Villanova, Temple and Penn. Boston has Boston College and Harvard. Washington has Georgetown, George Washington U. and George Mason U. Los Angeles has UCLA. (USC is terrible.) San Francisco has Stanford and Cal. It's just a shame, I think, that for such a great sports town, the men's college basketball programs receive scant media attention and end up with very poor recruiting classes. The schools' athletic programs can't or won't commit the resources to compete with their conference rivals. Loyola's and UIC's Horizon League rivals are mostly small urban schools like themselves. How hard could it be to beat these mid-major or non-major squads? To Northwestern's credit, the Wildcats seem to be on the road to improvement. Still mediocre this year, but they did sweep Michigan and split with Illinois.

When was the last time any of these four went to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament? Famously, Northwestern has never been invited. DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Northwestern are barely noticeable in the winter, competing with the Bears (even long after their season is over), the Bulls, Blackhawks, and Cubs and White Sox (before their seasons begin) for media and fan attention in the big city.

Northwestern will sell out its 8117-seat Welsh-Ryan Arena if it is playing a Big Ten opponent with many alumni in the area. Other than those dates, the turnout is disappointing for its games and downright embarrassing for the other three teams. DePaul's fall from grace is particularly disappointing. The Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) was built for DePaul men's basketball in 1980 and 1981, after the Blue Demons had outgrown their aging on-campus dump, Alumni Hall. (Alumni Hall no longer stands.) Now DePaul may have a few thousand fans rattling around a stadium that seats nearly 20,000. It is the third tenant after the Chicago Wolves (minor-league hockey) and Chicago Sky (women's hoops). Students can take a free bus from the Lincoln Park campus. Unfortunately parking and tickets are awfully pricey for average fans. DePaul's tickets run $20-$100 for most games. Northwestern sells all individual Big Ten tickets for $20. Loyola and UIC charge less--about $12-$15. I'm not going to look up DePaul's records, but I suspect the Blue Demons have no NCAA tournament wins in the past decade.

Even when the Bulls and Blackhawks were awful, which was for most of the past decade, Chicago sports fans barely gave our college basketball teams a second look. They deserve better. And as fans, so do we.

1 comment:

JMNOR55 said...

Ken, UIC made the NCAA tournament my first year in Chicago and was barely heard from after that. DePaul won a game in the NCAA tournament in 2004. Big mistake they made was moving from Conference USA to the Big East. They aren't big enough to play with UConn, Syracuse and Georgetown and Nova.