Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips' take on the 2010-2011 season: Part one

    Photo by Stephen Carrera, courtesy of Northwestern Athletic Communications

    With two quarters in the books and the final one in full swing, North by Northwestern checked in with Athletic Director Jim Phillips to chat about an eventful 2010-2011 season, and what to take from this year. In a three-part series, Phillips sounds off on athletic feats and accomplishments, marketing initiatives, and his take on the future of the athletics program, with more to come.

    On the Wildcats’ successes this year…

    I think success has different meanings depending on what you’re looking at. First and foremost, we’re looking at what are we doing in the classroom, what are we doing academically. We had more All-Big Ten academic honorees than we ever had at all this year. Our graduation rate is tremendous; we just won the AFCA award for No. 1 graduation rate for football. Overall, our GPA has been hovering around 3.2 for 486 student athletes. So, all of those measurable type of academic indicators are pointing out that our young people are doing well in the classroom, and again, that’s the foundation, that’s the most important thing that we’re doing. I tell you the second thing I look at is community service work, we’re breaking a record this year for number of community service hours. Last year, we did about 5,700 hours and this year I think we’re going to top that. Participation is at almost 100 percent – I think it’s 99.9 percent – and I think that’s another under-the-radar thing that’s not talked about a lot, but something that our young people have embraced and done a good job at.

    And then, from an athletic standpoint, if you look at men’s basketball, women’s basketball and football as kind of the leaders of the department, this would be the second consecutive year where all three made the postseason. Before last year, they had never gone to the postseason together. We repeated it again this year. And then you talk about the dominance of women’s lacrosse, women’s tennis, soccer and swimming and fencing, and the list goes on and on. We’ve had some very measurable moments from an athletic success standpoint, both individually – like wrestling – and team sports. Our student-athletes have really accomplished some terrific things. Overall, I think it’s really been a positive year. We’ve done some things from a marketing and promotions standpoint, with the game at Wrigley, with our new marketing campaign of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” and Northwestern attendance was up 50-some percent in football, it was up 20 percent in basketball. Corporate sponsorship dollars are up, fundraising dollars are up, so even off the field, they’re not specific student-athlete results, but they’re departmental results that are important because we use those dollars to reinvest and support our teams and our coaches.

    About student-athletes’ involvement in community service…

    Habitat for Humanity. Elementary reading programs to talk about literacy, going to talk to kindergartners and first and second-graders; we did that last week with Dan Persa and some other athletes were doing that. We’ve had students take international trips during the Fall and Winter breaks. We’ve had them take them on Spring Break, where they go down to different places – not unlike what our wonderful students are doing – go to Appalachia, go down south, or go down to Mexico and give back. Build a home. Build paths and roads. There’s an awful lot of things – serving food kitchens, we’ve done work with Special Olympics kids. Autism is something big with some of our teams – and Coach McKeown, the women’s basketball coach. So really, there’s a number of things that student-athletes are doing relative to community service.

    His take on how he wants the year to end…

    I just saw the Winter Quarter grades – it was a 3.2 or 3.17 or something like that. I want to see us finish strong. It’s gonna be a tough quarter. You know how it is when the weather starts to get good for the first time. People want to go outside, they wanna get outta the library, they want to get out of the dorms and residence halls and apartments and enjoy Lake Michigan and Chicago. So I want us to stay grounded academically, I want us to finish this quarter strong, have a great number of graduates that are going to walk in June. I want us to continue the community service work. I think part of what we’ve been fortunate is that our young people have stayed out of being in the media for the wrong reasons. You see that in college athletics. That’s not to say our student-athletes are perfect, because they’re young people and they’re gonna make mistakes and that just comes with it, but we’re trying to make sure they understand that they have a really higher sense of responsibility, not just to their teams or themselves or the University, because they wear something that brings more than just them into the equation.

    And athletically, I want to finish strong with our golf, and tennis and lacrosse, baseball, softball, those spring sports that are in full swing right now, we want them to hopefully have some success. Women’s tennis is going for their 14th straight Big Ten championship, lacrosse is going to maybe play for their seventh straight championship, winning five and coming up runner-up last year. [I want to see] golf, both individually and collectively, get into the NCAA tournament and make a run there. So there’s a lot of those kinds of things, but each program is a little bit different, depending on what level of success they’ve had in the past.

    On the much discussed marketing initiatives by the department…

    We’ve done a lot of benchmarking to see just brand awareness, who knows about Northwestern, who knows about Northwestern athletics. Here is how I would sum up athletics at Northwestern: I think it could be the front porch of the University. It’s not even close to being the most important thing that happens at Northwestern. But I think it gives you a chance, so people have an entry point to learn more about this great university, this unbelievably world-class institution and so I want the front porch and we need it to look appropriate, meaning to try and have success with our programs, but then we have to market and promote, because… besides only Penn State, we have the smallest number of alumni in Chicago in the Big Ten. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin all have more alums in Chicago than we do at Northwestern. That’s not gonna change when you have 8,000 undergrads at NU and the next smallest is Iowa at 23,000. That gap is just going to grow greater.

    So the whole idea of the marketing campaign was that, we have this wonderful city of Chicago and its surrounding areas, and we need folks that maybe have gone to another school to have a second favorite team, if they didn’t go to Northwestern. And maybe they didn’t have a chance to go to college; we hope they will adopt us because we’re a Chicago school. And that’s that whole idea of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”, trying to branch out. We certainly are paying attention to our alums and hopefully our students and doing everything we can to recruit them to come to games and all that. But they can only fill a certain amount of each of our venues. We have to get this collective, this greater collection of people in Chicago, to notice Northwestern. And it’s tough because this is a pro sports market, with the Cubs and the White Sox and the Bulls and the Blackhawks and the Bears. And then, oh, by the way, there’s also semi-professional teams like the Wolves and the Kane County Cougars. Someone told me that there was 31 other schools within 90 minutes of Chicago that were colleges, minor league, professional teams in this area. So it’s a very, very competitive marketplace. And that was that whole idea of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”, of doing the game down at Wrigley, the billboards you see, the radio ads – we’ve done school newspaper ads – we’re just trying to saturate the market and get people to learn a little bit more about the Wildcats.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.