Whatsoever, we are Northwestern by Sylvan Lane
We Northwestern students are in a unique position – and I’m not talking about our proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan. Our beloved university is one of the few in that nation that competes with the best collegiate teams in the nation while boasting elite academics. There are few schools in the United States that can claim the same (Stanford, Duke, Virginia, Vanderbilt and our Big Ten counterpart Michigan come to mind). Despite this unique and somewhat remarkable balance, especially given the notoriously underhanded nature of Division I recruiting, Northwestern athletics receive notably less support than other schools that share this distinction – let alone the other teams in the Big Ten.
Granted, there are several legitimate and logical factors that have caused this lack of emphasis on athletics. With an undergraduate population that hovers around 8,000 students, Northwestern’s population pales in comparison to that of its Big Ten peers. NU is the only private school in a 12-team conference that features such masses of humanity as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, all of which enroll from 25,000-40,000 undergraduates. In addition to size, Northwestern’s historic imbalanced emphasis on academics over athletics, one that has greatly improved over recent years, and prominent music and theater programs attract students who aren’t traditionally as fanatic about sports as other college students.
Even if you disregard the inherent difference in magnitude, Northwestern’s athletic programs are gradually recovering from an era of total futility, a climb that has been in process since the Wildcats went to the 1996 Rose Bowl. This in turn has given NU students little in the way of winning culture to embrace. Still, the climb is happening. Both Northwestern athletics and admissions are reaching new levels of competitiveness season after season – and let’s be honest, college admissions are just as brutal a competition as any sport.
I’m very far from religious, but I’m inclined to borrow our school’s motto in this situation: Quaecumque sunt vera, or, “Whatsoever things are true.”
We may not be the biggest or the best program in Division I – or the Big Ten for that matter. Our fans may never travel as well Michigan’s. Ryan Field may never strike the same fear in the hearts of quarterbacks as Ohio Stadium. But whatever shape or size our athletics are, they are ours.
As frustrating as it may be to explain who John Shurna is, or have someone look at you in befuddlement when you ask what he or she thought of the ‘Cats’ upset of Nebraska this November, Northwestern has a truly special and unique athletic program – whatever the students may think of it.
Few schools can boast the same paralleled growth in academia and athletics as Northwestern, and this growth is directly attributable to many things.
Things like the football team’s fourth straight bowl appearance this December and fifth straight season of bowl eligibility. Things like John Shurna’s assumption of the title of Northwestern basketball’s most prolific scorer and his squad’s banging on the door of the NCAA Tournament. Things like our Women’s’ Lacrosse team’s five – yes, five – consecutive national championships, not to mention the most recent to make it seven in eight years. Then there are things like rapidly increasing amount of application and yield rate, along with our decreasing rate of admission.
These things are “true,” “just,” and “of good report,” as states the Biblical verse from which our school slogan is derived. They are things that Northwestern students and alumni take enormous pride in. They are things I thought about every time I held my breath when Shurna thrust a three-pointer toward the hoop and every time I pass by University Hall on the way to journalism class. They are things that attract aspiring engineers and wide receivers, doctors and goal keepers, reporters and shooting guards and countless other students and student-athletes to our university.
I take pride in my school and my school’s athletics for what they were, what they are and what they will soon be. I know the sometimes thousands – sometimes hundreds – of students and fans that cheer along with me and bleed purple like me do, too.
It’s true. We’ll never be Ohio State or Michigan. But that doesn’t bother me.
Crawling back to the 'Cats by Steven Goldstein
Back in February, I received a phone call from a good friend of mine from my hometown, who had been recently accepted to the class of 2016. After running through a few painfully obligatory topics (perhaps I forgot just how dull the life of a high-school senior can be), we began a conversation that’s been frequented over the past few years: sports. “Isn’t it ironic,” he started, “that there are so many famous sports journalists from our school, yet we totally suck at every sport?”
I stopped to think about this for a second. It was a brilliant observation – former ‘Cats dominate ESPN, but what exactly were Rachel Nichols, Kevin Blackistone, Mike Greenberg and others doing in their Medill days?
Aside from lamenting their 201-1 woes, probably not much.
There were no exciting bowl-bound football teams. No magical Tournament runs. No traditions or allure that could hold a candle to the rest of the Big Ten. In short, there was little for aspiring sports reporters to actually report on.
“Just you wait!” I remarked, continuing on in true naive, freshman fashion by saying, “we’re gonna beat Ohio State. We’re making the Dance this year.”
And just seconds after Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes emerged from Welsh-Ryan Arena on February 29th with a two-point victory – and the hardwood hopes and dreams of all of Evanston – I knew exactly who was responsible for the numbing buzz in my pocket.
“I take it all back, I’m never rooting for Northwestern again!” I sweared. These threats seem to be coming weekly at this point, always ringing hollow by the time the next game tips or kicks off.
Why do we subject ourselves to such disappointment? For a major conference program that has never seen the light of an NCAA Tournament, for a team that’s somehow mustered nine consecutive bowl losses, Northwestern clings tight to some pretty faithful followers.
That Wednesday night loss came in typical, excruciating fashion: the ‘Cats began slowly, eliciting boos and the departure of a few solemn fans looking to catch an early shuttle home. But by the second half, things were in full-swing, and despite being considerably mismatched, NU played toe-to-toe with its opponent, only to fade in the final moments.
“It would be so much easier if they just sucked the whole time, it wouldn’t get my hopes up,” a fellow freshman told me after the game.
Boy, was she right.
But that’s exactly why we continue to root for the tragically average Wildcats. It’s exciting as all hell.
We know waking up after a night out for an 11 a.m. kickoff is a bad idea. We know that bailing on our looming midterms to watch Drew Crawford and the gang play a ranked opponent is not the best decision. And we know that painting up for any sporting event will look foolish when we head for the exits with our heads hanging low.
But the ‘Cats exemplify everything the world loves about sports: it’s fun to be emotionally invested, and win or loss, a close game is a sure-fire way to distract yourself from real-life.
Maybe we get a kick out of pitying ourselves; maybe we truly have nothing better to do with our time. But far more likely, we root for the Wildcats for the same reasons that moviegoers flock to Michael Bay films: You may very well come out disappointed and shaking your head at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but it’s dramatic, eventful and undoubtedly entertaining.
As for my next attempt to swear-off NU sports altogether? Football kicks off September first.