EVANSTON- This last year has been worth the wait. On Friday night, Northwestern University finally opened the newly renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena on campus. This is part of the university’s ongoing effort to modernize it’s facilities, especially from an athletic standpoint. For many years Northwestern was known as an academic powerhouse but inferior from an athletic standpoint.

Over the last few years, however, that has changed. With Chris Collins coaching the Wildcats basketball team into respectability, and Pat Fitzgerald consistently leading the football program to noticable success, the university –with help from generous donors- has done it’s part to give the athletic department what it needs to be competitive in the Big Ten Conference. Through the years Ryan Field has gotten various upgrades, while the football program opened it’s new practice facility earlier this year.

Now it’s the basketball team’s turn. The new Welsh-Ryan Arena has two levels of seating as opposed to the double decker fieldhouse model the previous version used. It also has concourses on each level instead of just one concourse serving the entire building. The new building also has multiple restrooms, extra handicapped seating compared to the old building, and railings to assist fans in getting through the rows of seating.

“It’s a transformation for us not only as a basketball program….. But also as a place that has really committed itself to excellence,” says NU athletic director Jim Phillips.

The seats are more comfortable and have more leg room now. But in order to make all of this possible, the capacity was decreased by 1,000 seats. The current Welsh-Ryan now holds 7,500 fans. There’s also a brand new HD jumbotron hanging above center court. A ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the new building was held earlier in the day.

“It means a great statement about the commitment of Northwestern University to have excellence in everything they do,” says Pat Ryan who is among the biggest donors to this project.

Formalities aside, there was a game that took place on the court. Northwestern played an exhibition against the McKendree Bearcats, a Division-II team from Lebanon, Illinois. The Wildcats won the game by the score of 83-44. Senior forward Vic Law had 14 points, freshman forward Pete Nance had 12 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Anthony Gaines added 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

“I thought a lot of guys did a great job and overall was pleased with how we played tonight,” said head coach Chris Collins after the game.

New Welsh-Ryan Arena
Northwestern and McKendree warm up on the floor of the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena (Gabe Salgado)

Coach Collins and his team of course will be the biggest beneficiaries of the renovated facility. Including Friday’s game, NU will play 19 home games between now and March. And it will be a little more intimidating than in year’s past. The student section is louder, and the fans in general are louder as this building isn’t as cavernous as it used to be.

“I got to thank the people responsible for this building. I think it’s going to be an amazing place to play in and a tough home court advantage for us,” Collins said.

Welsh-Ryan Arena was first built in 1952 to replace Patten Gymnasium which is still used by the school for other purposes. But as time went on the original version of this building became antiquated. That is no longer the case. The re-opening of Welsh-Ryan Arena is part of a big weekend for Northwestern. On Saturday the Wildcats football team hosts No. 4 Notre Dame at Ryan Field in a nationally televised game which could decide the fate of the rest of the season for both programs.