Monday, February 2, 2009

Welsh-Ryan Arena

Upon entering Welsh-Ryan Arena for Saturday's Wisconsin-Northwestern game, this is the first thing my brother-in-law Nick said:

"Evanston Township High School's gym is bigger than this."

Nick, who lived with my sister across the street from Northwestern's athletic complex for a couple years, would know. But he didn't know that it would be about 80 degrees in side the glorified high school gym for the Badgers-Wildcats game.

Take a look at how big this "arena" really is. It sort of reminded me in size of Neenah High School, where my sister's volleyball team played for the state title. About half the fans there were Badger fans, and the chants of "Let's go Badgers!" were loud and enthusiastic. And, ultimately, in vain.

In many respects the place reminded me of the Field House, only better lit. Between this place and Welsh-Ryan Stadium, it is a clear indication of what happens when universities don't invest in athletics. Fifteen years ago, our facilities resembled theirs. Now, ours are modern and classy, and theirs are inferior to an Indiana high school basketball program or Texas high school football program. Whether that's right or wrong is up for debate -- Northwestern is still a hell of an academic institution, one of the best around -- but facilities like this do not typically play host to winning teams in BCS conferences.

All that said, the atmosphere for our game was great. It reminded me of a Fremont Ross-Sandusky game back in Ohio, where the gym was packed, standing room only, and it was hotter than an oven with fans from both sides yelling back and forth. I'd go back next year in a heartbeat.


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