Campbell’s commit shows arena is helping

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Campbell’s commit shows arena is helping

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When the Blue Demons dropped into the Big East for the 2005-06 season, they slipped directly into the basement and never emerged.  

Jerry Wainwright gave DePaul something to cheer for when he took DePaul to the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Tournament in 2007, but getting excited about an NIT run after decades of NCAA tournament appearances is kind of like celebrating a C+ on an exam you didn’t study for – congrats, you made a brief return to the land of mediocrity. 

But the 2007 season is a dim and flickering light in an otherwise dark decade of Blue Demons basketball.  Two years later DePaul failed to win a single game in conference play (0-18), inspiring a four-year stint on the bottom rung of the Big East standings, winning only five conference games over the same time frame.

For each of the last four seasons, DePaul has found themselves inside the top-10 of the Big East standings, but that’s merely a result of programs like Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville, Connecticut and Rutgers fleeing the Big East for greener pastures in the Atlantic Coast Conference, American Athletic Conference and Big 10.  The conference is smaller and arguably less competitive, but the Blue Demons keep churning out 20-loss seasons like clockwork ­— like the Cleveland Browns of Big East basketball. Now is the time for a rebuild and it needs to happen quickly. DePaul’s first step was to rehire Dave Leitao as head coach, who was the last coach to bring the Blue Demons to the NCAA tournament (2004, second round).  Leitao’s first two seasons back in Lincoln Park haven’t gone as Blue Demon nation had hoped, finishing ninth and tenth in the Big East and winning fewer than ten games each season.

The next phase — and the most expensive — of the rebuild will be put to the test this season as the Blue Demons move into Wintrust Arena, an $82.5-million-dollar investment on behalf of the university.  To some, that’s a lot of money to spend on a building, which, by itself, doesn’t really help win basketball games.

Wintrust started to look a reckless expenditure on the heels of Crain’s Business report that said three separate DePaul games had fewer than 600 fans in attendance.  Building fancy new seats for a basketball team that can’t get people to care enough to go watch them seems entirely removed from logic.  According to estimates reported by Crain’s, DePaul will need to average 9,500 in attendance to break even on operating costs, which could require a few sellout crowds.   

But the allure DePaul’s new home brings to talent and potential fan bases could be greater than expected – and it’s already starting to pay dividends.

Five-star recruit Tyger Campbell stunned the NCAA basketball world by verbally committing to DePaul over a handful of top-25 programs, giving the Blue Demons their biggest recruit in 20 years and analysts something to scratch their head about.

Campbell’s commitment can’t be entirely attributed to Wintrust, but he has sited the new, downtown arena as something that caught his attention in the recruiting process.  But even if Campbell is more focused on who he plays with rather than where he plays, Wintrust Arena only helps push along what the University Athletics department hoped for all along: a revival of the brand.

Wintrust is in the heart of Chicago, the city of Michael Jordan and the once-holy Chicago Bulls, now, we hope, the city of DePaul basketball.

“I love Chicago. It’s a great city,” Campbell told “I want to bring the city a college back to cheer for (…) they got that new arena and that will be amazing.”

Campbell and Wintrust will create some synergy and provide a little “snowball effect” for DePaul.  Players want to play somewhere where they will be seen and fans want to watch good basketball.  Wintrust will see more fans simply due to an improved proximity to campus and the City Center, but an influx of talent will push that along even more.  And once the talent attracts more attention, the attention will attract even more talent.

Campbell’s commitment to DePaul should pause any concerns over Wintrust Arena.  He won’t arrive in Lincoln Park until 2018, so the Blue Demons may have to grind out another year in the basement, but the tables are turning in the right direction and should start to turn faster and faster.

If things don’t start to change dramatically in the next three years or so, the Blue Demons should start looking for a curse to which they can credit their misfortune.