Welsh-Ryan Arena has always had a reputation as one of the most intimate and old-school facilities in the Big Ten. This place has been around since 1952 and gives Northwestern fans a chance to experience one of the last true “gyms” in Division I college basketball.
But Wildcats fans who pack Welsh-Ryan this year may see some big differences to the eternal home of Northwestern hoops.
“I think the biggest thing that fans will notice right off the bat are the new video boards,” said associate director of athletic communications Nick Brilowski. “It was neat to see when we had the open scrimmage, our players looking up and watching and seeing themselves during the intro video.”
The four high-definition video boards (two mounted above the court and two on opposite ends of the arena) provide a new element to the Welsh-Ryan experience. The boards were designed by renowned audio-visual design firm Anthony James Partners, which has also built scoreboards at Ohio State, Michigan State and several NBA arenas.
“I think it’s just going to completely change the atmosphere in there," Brilowski said. "The size of them is pretty tremendous for how small and how intimate the arena is … I think it’s going to blow a lot of people away."
Sounds like Jerry Jones would be proud.
The new video boards are just part of the biggest upgrades made to Welsh-Ryan Arena since 1983.
The arena was built all the way back in December of 1952 to replace Patten Gymnasium as the home of Northwestern basketball. The original Patten Gym (located where Tech is today) hosted the first NCAA tournament in 1939.
A unique facility in several regards, Welsh-Ryan is the second-oldest and second-smallest basketball arena in the Big Ten. It hosted the NCAA tournament in 1956 and has seen countless basketball and volleyball games in its storied history.
The other big change at Welsh-Ryan Arena this year is a new court design, one that Brilowski said was designed by Under Armour. The design replaces the ‘Cats longtime “water-color” court and gives the playing surface a cleaner, simpler look.
“Even five years ago, people didn’t care what a court design looked like and it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Brilowski said. “I think now it’s just a way to get noticed and draw some attention to your program.”
The improvements to the arena signal a renewed commitment by Northwestern to keep basketball and volleyball in Welsh-Ryan for the foreseeable future. They will also serve to improve the game day experience for fans and recruits alike. The arena has always had its share of critics, but the recent improvements should be enough to quiet some of the doubters. The fact is, playing in a bandbox like Welsh-Ryan should give Northwestern a significant home court advantage, provided the fans show up.
“It can be a huge home-court advantage, with the students being right on top of you,” Brilowski said. “When we’re winning, that place is jam-packed and students are lined up outside the doorway to get in 90 minutes before the game … There’s no place like it in the Big Ten.”