Northwestern fared not too much better and consistently ranked low in the Big 10 Conference until Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald took over in summer 2006. He recently came off a 10-win season. As the Yahoo article describes, the university’s leaders were worried Fitzgerald would be wooed away to replace the former head coach of University of Michigan in 2011 -- which was the catalyst to the new facility.In fairness, Pat Fitzgerald was a linebacker on some successful Northwestern teams coached by Gary Barnett, although the high point of the program might still be a Rose Bowl loss in those years to the University of Spoiled Children. On the other hand, the convocation center dodge is common around the Mid-American Conference, although there the label generally applies to a generally empty basketball arena. Then there's Northwestern's recent experience playing Northern Illinois, which somehow makes do with an indoor practice building that would not be out of place housing a rolling mill. That might be more fitting at Northwestern, where the United Steelworkers have attempted to unionize the footballers.
Ultimately, Fitzgerald never interviewed with Michigan. Instead, Fitzgerald laid out to top Northwestern administrators, and a wealthy donor and trustee for which the building is named, Pat Ryan, what was "necessary from a facility perspective to change Northwestern football’s paradigm,” as the Yahoo piece says.
They accepted. Fitzgerald has subsequently signed multiple 10-year deals with Northwestern.
And the result -- the Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center, a 425,000 square foot-behemoth on the shore of Lake Michigan with splendorous 45-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that will house multiple athletics and some intramural teams and some administrative offices. It’s fashioned with slick toys and trappings -- curtains controlled by remote control and video cameras by joystick, a barrier to separate a practice room into two separate sides for offense and defense, a barber chair and a hot and cold tub that seats 40. Funding came from the university's fund-raising effort "We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern."
Alan K. Cubbage, a university spokesman, said to characterize the building as benefiting just football is inaccurate. He said it will be used for other teams such as women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and for university events, such as convocation for new students.
“Yes, we anticipate that Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletic Center will provide a real boost for the football program, as they will provide terrific facilities in an unmatched location, right on the shore of Lake Michigan,” Cubbage wrote in an email. “But the building also will benefit thousands of other Northwestern students, faculty and staff.”
The positional arms races will go on, until somebody opts out.