DePaul University basketball may be bouncing back to Chicago

By Kyle Rich

After decades of having its athletes travel 15 miles from campus for home games, DePaul University has finally recognized the need for closer quarters.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and DePaul officials recently hinted that the university may move its main basketball facility back to the city from its current location  at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. According to Greg Greenwell, director of athletic communications at DePaul, the university has not made any definite decisions. But Emanuel is apparently ready for the big move.

“For years, DePaul has been looking to come back to Chicago,” said Tom Alexander, a spokesman for the mayor’s press office. “They’ve been talking about this for a long, long time. What the mayor is saying is he is welcoming them with open arms.”

Both parties are keeping mum about a specific location, although a few are rumored, according to Danny Ecker, a sports writer at Crain’s Chicago Business. A. Finkl & Sons steel factory, which is close to DePaul’s campus, is moving its plant and leaving a large, empty space that could be utilized. An area near McCormick Place is another option, Ecker said.

The Blue Demons have played at their current arena since the 1980s. While the stadium’s location has raised a slew of problems for students and fans who don’t have the means to trave to the stadium, team recruitment has also suffered, according to Ecker.

“It’s a huge roadblock for DePaul [recruitment],” he said. “It’s the biggest single factor that holds them back from being an elite basketball team.”

Ecker believes the distance turns off incoming freshmen. He also believes the college can bring in stronger recruits to help the struggling team down the road if Chicago becomes the home for DePaul men’s basketball.

“It’s a recruiting game,” Ecker said. “You can’t blame the top high school basketball player for leaving the city when there are no options in the city. You look at the top basketball players coming out of the city of Chicago in the past five or six years, they were guys who grew up in the city and decided to go elsewhere to play basketball.”

Alexander believes a city location would not only elicit more enthusiasm from Chicago communities and DePaul’s campus but would garner economic benefits.

“Any time you have high quality athletic events being played, there [are] positive economic impacts,” Alexander said.

Even with the mayor’s endorsement, building a new city arena is no easy feat. Mike Cassidy, athletic director of the Roosevelt University Lakers, said there have been challenges with building the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center, the school’s new athletic arena at Congress street and Wabash avenue that is scheduled to open at the end of the year.

“If there is one thing I have learned, there is no such thing as an easy building project,” Cassidy said. “And that holds true whether you are trying to put together a shelving unit in your house or construct an arena in an urban environment.”

Despite the challenges of choosing a location, framing a budget and applying for numerous permits, he is grateful to be building in Chicago.

“Building a stadium or arena is not a one-man job,” Cassidy said. “It takes a village of dedicated people invested in the project [to be] a success.”