Keeping the 'Cats in the Hunt
Director of Athletics Jim Phillips discusses the Wrigley game, Big Ten expansion, and the importance of giving.
NULC: With the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic coming up, have you recently been inundated with long-lost friends asking for tickets?
Jim Phillips: (laughs) Yes, we suddenly have lots of new so-called alums, donors, fans, and friends of the program. But that’s what you want.
NULC: Is exposure—both national and local—really the biggest benefit from playing at Wrigley?
Jim Phillips: The game at Wrigley Field constitutes not only an opportunity to showcase our football program, but more importantly, it gives the University a wonderful platform to talk about all the great things that are happening at Northwestern with academics, research, and the social awareness of our students. I think it’s a tremendous chance for us to discuss the University as a whole.
NULC: How much revenue do you expect this game to generate compared to a typical home game against the University of Illinois?
Jim Phillips: This game will generate more revenue both in ticket and corporate sales. Allstate is the title sponsor of the game and we’ve been able to do some other creative things. But that wasn’t the driving force of this. It was the chance to showcase the University, create a bowl game experience during the season, and let our student athletes and fans experience a historic ballpark.
NULC: Conference expansion is a hot topic these days. With the Big Ten recently adding the University of Nebraska and possibly looking to expanding further, how does this growth impact the athletic department financially?
Jim Phillips: We feel the most recent expansion will be very beneficial to the University and the athletic department. Nebraska is a good academic institution with tremendous athletic history. The equation for the Big Ten has always been that we’re partners in everything we do. Whether it’s bowl games, ticket sales, or television revenue, the revenue goes to the Big Ten conference and gets distributed back out. So not only will we be joined by a quality school, it will financially benefit all the Big Ten Schools, and we’ll be able to use those dollars to reinvest in our operation. That’s a positive result.
NULC: Around the country, particularly in powerful conferences like the Big Ten, athletics budgets are exploding. As a smaller, private institution, how has Northwestern managed to stay competitive against such a backdrop?
Jim Phillips: We’ve been able to do it because of great University support, even though we have the smallest budget in the conference. But I will tell you that we are very fortunate to have high-quality head coaches, staff, and student-athletes. That combination has really resulted in the success that we’re experiencing right now. We’ll never have as big of a department financially as Ohio State or Michigan, but we can still compete at a very high level across 19 sports by doing it the Northwestern way.
NULC: How critical to the health of Northwestern athletics are contributions to the Wildcat Fund?
Jim Phillips: The impact that the Wildcat Fund has on the department is immeasurable. It allows us to provide our student athletes a world-class experience—academically, socially, and athletically. At the end of the day, it will always be about the student athlete experience. We want them to have a great academic experience, graduate, and be able to transition out of Northwestern and into the world. That will always be the compass that guides us. Athletically, we had a great year last year and we’re off to a great start this year. That’s really the residual of the Wildcat Fund. It has been instrumental to that success by enabling us to recruit the top student-athletes in the country and to retain and recruit the kind of coaches and staff that it takes to run a department of this magnitude.
NULC: How are Wildcat Fund dollars spent? What area benefits most from this support?
Jim Phillips: The dollars are used in every area within our department. For example, it is used for scholarships, travel for our teams, summer school aid, laptop computers in our academic services area, and in our training room for medical staff and equipment. There’s not one area that the Wildcat Fund doesn’t impact positively.
NULC: What areas of Northwestern athletics are in greatest need of increased donor support?
Jim Phillips: We’re always looking for ways to invest in the academic experience of our student athletes, so scholarships and grants-in-aid are important. And those are the key areas supported by the Wildcat Fund. The cost of running our department every year continues to increase significantly. The only way we can keep up is through philanthropy.
NULC: So is this the year the Wildcats win a bowl game?
Jim Phillips: (laughs) Absolutely!