Opinions: Wintrust Arena is too far away


Shane Rene

Outside of Wintrust Arena, home of the DePaul men’s and women’s basketball teams. The arena is located on the Near South Side, about two miles south of DePaul’s Loop Campus.

Last week, The DePaulia reported on the low crowd turnout for men and women’s basketball games in Wintrust Arena. Attendance is down significantly from the 2019-20 season, but over the past few years it’s never been stellar.

There are probably many reasons for this. Team’s success surely plays a factor, and the Covid-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help. But I think the biggest reason DePaul students aren’t clamoring to see our Blue Demon basketball teams is because they play so far away.

Wintrust Arena was brand new when I first came to DePaul in 2018. Despite the school promoting it on campus tours and welcome week events, most of the other freshmen at the time didn’t know much about the arena. It seemed like a bit of an afterthought to the campus experience considering it was so far away from Lincoln Park.

“I never went to Wintrust Arena,” said DePaul graduate Bryce Prichard. “I still haven’t been. It’s too far.”

Prichard was a junior when Wintrust Arena first opened. Despite being an avid basketball fan, he could never justify making the trip to the Near South Side for a game.

“There was never much school spirit with it being so far from campus,” Prichard said. “If you look at other schools, they tailgate on campus before they go to the game, students meet up beforehand and walk to the game together. You don’t really have that at DePaul.”

I did have that experience once during my freshman year. The DePaul men’s basketball team played the University of South Florida at the Roman College Basketball Invitational (CBI). The stands were packed with DePaul students, and the atmosphere was that of any big Division 1 basketball game.

This game wasn’t at Wintrust Arena. They played at McGrath-Phillips Arena on the Lincoln Park campus. To this day, it was one of the liveliest crowds I’ve ever seen at a DePaul game.

“That game was way more fun than the ones at Wintrust,” DePaul senior Connor Reid said.

Contrary to Prichard, Reid has been to numerous games at Wintrust Arena as well. While he admitted the significance of the game against USF probably contributed to the spirited student section, he thinks the location played a big part as well.

“It was obviously within walking distance, so I was able to go with a big group,” Reid said. “There was just more of a campus culture behind that game.”

In fairness, what makes DePaul unique is the fact that it isn’t your quintessential college experience. Most students live off-campus and are scattered around Chicago — and I love that about this school.

But the heart of DePaul is its Lincoln Park campus. Many off-campus students still live near it. It’s where the gym and the main library are. When I get off at the Fullerton Red Line stop, it feels like I’m on my college campus. So why does our most popular sports team play so far away from it?

At the time of writing, Wintrust Arena is a $30 Uber or a 50-minute train ride from my apartment in Chicago’s North Side. DePaul had some significant games and some big wins this season, but the distance has made it hard for me to go to as many basketball games as I would have liked during my time as a student. It’s just hard to justify the $60 round trip or two hours of total travel time.

Granted, there is a bus service that takes students from Lincoln Park dorms to Wintrust for certain basketball games. This is great for freshmen, but it wouldn’t be necessary in the first place if DePaul played closer to campus.

It’s a shame, because Wintrust is a beautiful arena. I’m sure if DePaul had the resources and the space to build it closer to campus, they would have done it. Our basketball teams deserve a passionate and lively student section every game. But with Wintrust Arena being so far away from the students, I’m not sure how possible that is.