Philadelphia, PA – DePaul star forward Cleveland Melvin made a bold statement when he put his signature on a student petition against the university's newly proposed arena in the South Loop of Chicago.
Melvin, who will be concluding his career next year after starting for the Blue Demons in each of the past three seasons, put his John Hancock on a list with over 1,000 of his peers this week. Although the growing resistance from the student body and faculty against a new arena makes sense on the surface, a closer look at the facts indicates Melvin and Co. may ultimately regret making a stand.
The city of Chicago's current economy is in such a poor state that 50 of its public schools are going to be shut down at the end of the current school year. DePaul has announced it will be raising tuition prices for its students and the basketball team has been a bottom dweller in the Big East since it migrated to the elite league from the Conference USA in 2005.
With the funding for the new arena coming from both the city and the university, members of the community and college are contesting that it is poor judgment to use money on a new home for a struggling program and would be better used to save public schools or, at the very least, keep tuition rates as low as possible.
Those resisting the new arena, which would require $75 million from both the city and the school, are failing to recognize the possible benefits it could bring along with some facts that make their argument irrelevant.
According to Brigid Sweeney from Chicagobusiness.com, the majority of the money the city plans to put toward the construction is coming from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which is a separate entity from the city of Chicago. This basically means the MPEA can not use its resources to help avoid the struggling school system as its sole purpose is to expand Navy Pier and McCormick Place, which are two of the most frequented spots by tourists.
A new arena near McCormick Place, which is the largest convention center in North America, would bring more business to the area and the tax revenue from the increase of commerce would go back to the city, which could then be used to help the struggling school system.
DePaul is actually a private institution, which is another reason why some are outraged that it is receiving city funding. However, the new arena will only be occupied by the athletic program for one-third of the year, which would allow the city plenty of time to use it for other profitable events such as concerts and shows.
The university's president, Father Dennis Holtschneider, has overseen the completion of a handful of projects in recent years, including new buildings for the theater, music and science programs. An upgrade to the athletics program is not a necessity, but could pay off massive dividends. It is also important to realize the rough amount of $70 million the school would be required to contribute would quickly be replenished through naming rights and advertising.
DePaul currently plays its home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., which is a 15-miles-of-traffic-infested travel away from campus. The unfavorable commute makes Blue Demons home games a very casual experience.
The only other option for the Blue Demons is the United Center, but the operating costs of the Madhouse on Madison would be very costly. So while many are seeing the new arena as a reward for a struggling program, it in actuality could be its saving grace.
With the new arena, DePaul will have an immediate recruiting advantage with any big-time high school basketball player from the city who is interested in staying home. The Blue Demons made it to the Elite Eight in 1978 and the Final Four in 1979 while playing on a tiny on-campus gym before moving to the a more spacious home in Rosemont.
Although the program made it to the NCAA Tournament in nine of the next 10 years, the final two trips were vacated by the NCAA due to rules infringements. DePaul has become a shell of what it once was as it has not made it to the Big Dance since 2004.
The men's basketball program has gone 7-83 in the old Big East over the past five seasons. It is hard to blame the coach as turning around the program in its current state is an impossible request.
Coach Oliver Purnell showed he has what it takes to get the job done when he guided Clemson to three consecutive NCAA tournaments before arriving at DePaul. The deck has been stacked against him to this point, but the future looks bright.
Chicago has some of the most competitive high school basketball programs in the nation and it produces All-American players on a yearly basis. But the Windy City's superstar high school players very rarely end up at DePaul,
A new arena on the South Side of the city will make recruiting for Purnell a much easier task. If the new arena is approved, Purnell could end up being credited for bringing college basketball back to the city. Former Chicago high school basketball stars such as Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins would have found it very hard to ignore DePaul if its arena was located at McCormick Place during their respective college selection processes.
There is no guarantee DePaul's basketball team will be saved by a new arena, but it is sure to help maximize its potential as it enters the new-look Big East.
The project will bring back much-needed tax revenue to a city desperate for financial help and it also will provide construction jobs for thousands. The controversy surrounding the project, hopefully, will die down as the light at the end of the tunnel grows increasingly brighter.