New arena could give cagers lift

By Jeff Kirik

The possibility of NIU’s gaining access to the proposed DeKalb County civic center has Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell dreaming of what might be.

Although the civic center is still in its infantile stages, O’Dell said the mere chance of having a new homecourt for Huskie basketball has him excited.

“When you talk about an arena,” he said, “that would mean so much to the entire community, not just the university. But, obviously I’m excited about the potential of it for NIU intercollegiate athletics.”

Ken Beasley, assistant to NIU President John La Tourette, said although the building would mainly function as a county agricultural exposition center, there is a possibility the university could use the center for sporting events and other activities.

That could give a boost to a Huskie basketball program that has struggled over the past several years. The winning percentage of the team has dropped since its 15-12 mark in 1985-86 and with it has dwindled the size of crowds watching the games at Chick Evans Field House. The average attendance fell to a little more than 1,000 per game last season, with a high-water mark of 2,602 versus Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 23.

O’Dell believes playing at the civic center, along with the team’s new membership in the Association of Mid-Continent Universities, could give the Huskie cage program a needed lift.

“If you combine a new facility, where we could play men’s basketball and combine that with conference affiliation, if you’re a basketball fan here, you have to get excited,” he said.

O’Dell said the size and condition of the fieldhouse is not conducive to Division I basketball.

“The year and a half that I’ve been here, we’ve talked about athletic facilities,” he said. “There’s one question that I tend to ask people when they interview for positions. I’ll ask them: What is the one thing that has disappointed you or surprised you the most—in a negative sense—about Northern and our athletic program? The number one and consistent reaction is how poor our arena facilities are.

“They’re amazed that an institution of this size and prominence doesn’t have a better multi-use facility—indoor arena.”

Chick Evans Field House, named after NIU’s all-time second-winningest basketball coach, has been the home of Huskie basketball since 1957. The complex, which seats 6,076, underwent its most recent remodeling in 1981. The Huskies went 6-7 at the fieldhouse last season on their way to an 11-17 record.

The Huskies also used the Rockford MetroCentre as a home site for seven years before dropping that contract two years ago. NIU played about three games a year at the facility and compiled a 6-16 record.

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