Hey Cubs, ask DePaul before packing for Rosemont

A Chicago original, a hometown favorite, and an unequivocal classic of the Windy City, could be headed to a faraway location unfamiliar to devoted and fair-weather fans alike.

Last week Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts threatened to move his team out of Chicago if he didn’t get approval for the stadium renovations he so desperately wants to make. The likely landing spot would be Rosemont, one of the few places that have offered the Cubs sanctuary in the unlikely event the team departs from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Sound familiar?

It should. Chicago experienced an eerily similar relocation in 1980, and it occurred right here in Lincoln Park. DePaul University took a highly successful Blue Demons basketball program and moved it from the raucous on-campus Alumni Hall to the brand new Rosemont Horizon, thus beginning a steady decline in the team’s success.

“They kind of sold out, sold out their basic constituency, which was the student body and the Lincoln Park area,” says Mike Conklin, a 35-year veteran of the Chicago Tribune who spent a portion of his career covering the Blue Demons when the team had Chicago in the palm of its hand with their exciting performances.

Ricketts opened a can of worms that put him squarely in the public eye with his comments about moving the team. How could you possibly move the Chicago Cubs out of Wrigley Field, all because you might not be able to install a fancy new scoreboard? That’s like moving into your friend’s house because your parents won’t build you a home theater. There is no way to win that argument, no rhyme or reason to the decision. Doing so would make Ricketts public enemy No. 1 in Chicago for eternity.

The Cubs aren’t defined by the stadium they play in, but Wrigley Field is still an iconic testament to the pride that Chicagoans have in their city. Wrigley is as much a part of the team’s history as Sammy Sosa or Ernie Banks.

All Ricketts needs to do to understand the gravity of such a move is to consider the predicament that DePaul found itself in when the wins became scarce after the move to Rosemont.

DePaul had a great thing going for it in the late 1970s, regularly filling the 5,308-seat Alumni Hall and giving the school something to cheer for. Those crowds were legendary, gathering to watch Ray Meyer and his group of Chicago-bred players regularly beat up on the competition. The Blue Demons were arguably the nation’s best team in those days, racking up win after win and earning DePaul the moniker, “the little school under the El.” Chicago was in love with DePaul basketball, and it seemed nothing could stop their run.

Then came the move, a product of the school wanting more seats, which in turn would lead to bigger turnouts and bigger profits.

“They were motivated by selling more tickets and making more money than anything else,” says Conklin. “They moved because they thought they could fill it. The general public was supposed to buy more tickets. But the general public, fickle as it can be, eventually stopped buying those tickets.”

 The strategy worked for a while, but the Rosemont Horizon was never able to recapture the environment and intimacy of Alumni Hall (which was torn down and replaced with what is currently the Student Center). With almost 13,000 more seats, the new arena couldn’t hold up to the standard that Alumni Hall had set for so long.

So when Ricketts thinks about possibly moving the Cubs, he might want to consider what he’s giving up. He’d be leaving behind tradition, screwing with one of the cultural staples of the city of Chicago. He’d also have to join a witness protection program, because the entire city would be calling for his head. If this (very unlikely) plan comes to fruition, Ricketts would make Steve Bartman look like the Easter Bunny. Not only should it not happen, it can’t happen.

This also brings up another point: would a move actually have a significant impact on the Cubs’ record?

In DePaul’s case, the wins certainly didn’t come as easy at the Rosemont Horizon, but it wasn’t like the school dropped off the map entirely. The Blue Demons remained one of the country’s premier programs through the early 1980s, but things were never the same after a 22-8 campaign in the 1987 season. DePaul’s record of sustained success took a hit as the decade came to an end, and attendance dropped as the team took a dive.

The issues with the Rosemont Horizon (renamed the Allstate Arena in 1999) are well documented. It’s inaccessible for students and faculty and isn’t a very inviting stadium. “From the beginning, the place was kind of a dump,” says Conklin. The arena took on a reputation of being inconvenient and trashy.

Interestingly enough, it’s those very attributes that make Wrigley Field what it is. The seats are uncomfortable, the lines are epic, the bathrooms are archaic, and the team isn’t very good. But there’s something different about Wrigley. It may not be the friendliest place (despite its nickname), but it’s part of what makes Chicago the city that it is. Who cares if the Cubs can’t win at Wrigley? Is moving out of an iconic structure worth the risk of trying to build a winner? Of course not, and anyone who says otherwise is just fishing for excuses.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Ricketts is doing. The man must be at a loss, because blaming the team’s lack of success on the stadium itself smells like desperation. If the Cubs are ever going to move out of Wrigley Field, it will be because of a failing infrastructure or a fan petition. Other than that, the Cubs are there to stay.

If Ricketts wants to sell more tickets, he might as well focus on finding a way to get better players. Making a move will do little to solve the team’s problems – it will only exacerbate them.

All he needs to do is look at what happened to the little school under the El, just a stone’s throw from his office window.