Commentary: DePaul wins big with new stadium

The call has been heeded, and I couldn’t be happier.

DePaul is about to build a brand-new, first-rate, student-friendly facility to house its men and women’s basketball teams.

For students who have toiled on the school bus to Rosemont to watch a last-place team stumble and bumble their way to numerous blowout losses, this news is as welcome as any that has come out of the athletic department in some time. There will be no more cramped rides to Allstate Arena, no more sighs of despair upon realizing that you can’t leave until the final buzzer sounds. Finally, Blue Demon basketball will be accessible by train and the stadium will be chock-full of fans ready to rock their school colors.

But is building the arena the right idea? Seeing that Chicago is facing a budget crisis, does it make sense to commit $33 million in public tax dollars to a venue that will only host about 30 DePaul-specific events per year?

The answer is yes.

DePaul would have had a very difficult time defending itself if the school had signed off on an independent arena deal. As much as I love sports, even I wouldn’t agree with allocating funds to build a stadium while student tuition continues to rise. There’s tourism in the South Loop. Instead of building an arena just for the sake of building one, the school found a way to satisfy the student body and the city of Chicago. The structure of the plan is about as fortuitous as DePaul could have hoped, and that’s what makes this deal a smash-hit success.

For most current students, the entire situation holds no bearing on their ability to watch games in the new arena. Since it’s not scheduled to be complete until 2016, current sophomores, juniors and seniors will have graduated by the time basketball returns to Chicago.

In a way, I’m jealous of those freshman, and all of the other students who will be attending DePaul in the near future. They will experience something that I never got the chance to – an accessible stadium, packed with raucous fans that will bring a new sense of pride to the DePaul community.

I’ve received a superb education at this school, I’ve made a lot of good friends, and I’ve become accustomed to the campus and everything that makes DePaul unique. But what I’ve never had the chance to do is attend a sporting event with an environment on par with what many other Division I programs consider commonplace.

But I’m also incredibly excited. The men’s basketball program isn’t much to look at right now, but the incoming recruits and steady improvement of head coach Oliver Purnell have instilled a sense of hope in the student body. The new arena will bring numerous advantages, most notably on the recruiting trail. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for past prospects, entering a more-than-half-empty Allstate Arena on their campus visit and realizing that perhaps there wasn’t much special about being a Blue Demon.

A first-class stadium will draw recruits from in and around Chicago, and the scaled down size (from nearly 18,000 seats to 10,000) will create an environment that should rival the wild crowds that packed old on-campus Alumni Hall in the late 1970s. It will create an aura around the program and show recruits and fans alike that DePaul basketball is still something to have pride in. A successful basketball team, one that can bring the student body together for a common cause, will do wonders for the university.

So yes, building a new arena was a great idea. It’s been on the table for what seems like forever, and the logistical nightmare is finally over. No, it’s not in Lincoln Park; it was unrealistic to expect a stadium to built on campus anywhere. For what was available, DePaul got the best possible deal.

From a straight sports fan perspective, this move instantly improves the fortunes of the team. Playing in Rosemont has become a chore, and the environment in the Allstate Arena is simply not conducive to a productive team on the court. This move has reenergized DePaul basketball. Success won’t come immediately, but it never would have come without the new arena. This deal saved DePaul basketball.

I’m a Blue Demon now, and I always will be. Now, I’ll be able to wear the colors with even more pride as the team steadily improves in their new home.