Jim Phillips, CEO of Northwestern’s Athletic Program Part 2

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By Paul M. Banks

For part one, click here.

As Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips aggressively pursues the idea of joining forces with the Chicago Cubs to stage a football game between his Northwestern Wildcats and their rival, the University of Illinois at Wrigley Field, it reminds me of how I once heard Phillips described.  The head coach of NU’s baseball team, Paul Stevens explained Phillips’ influence on the Wildcat athletic community. “He has made a major difference in how he goes about taking care of the teams. I think this event (a NU-Notre Dame baseball game at U.S. Cellular Field) is evident of what this gentleman is talking about when he talks about world class experiences. He does not know the word no. He will go out and try to give you the best opportunity to showcase your program and this was a great venue for that.”nupractice1

The plans for Wildcat football at Wrigley Field are still in the beginning stages, but Phillips has already given lots of attention to heightening the Prairie State’s premier rivalry. “We have a new trophy, replacing the tomahawk. It’s a good rivalry, a healthy one that’s only going to get better, and it makes sense given the geography and alumni in the area. Ron Guenther is a tremendous Athletic Director, I have a lot of respect for him, he’s certainly someone I’ve watched from a far as I was working my way up the ranks of college athletics, and he feels the same way about the rivalry,” Phillips said.

This year, the two teams will play November 14th for the Land of Lincoln trophy. Phillips has history both sides of the rivalry, he’s a University of Illinois graduate, and he also grew up on the Northwest side of the city in the Portage Park neighborhood. The first college football games he went to were at Northwestern, and he grew up a Northwestern fan. At NU, many of the teams under his watch have had success. It all starts with Women’s Lacrosse who continued their dominance of this decade finishing a perfect 2009 with their fifth straight NCAA Lacrosse Championship. There’s also softball (Big Ten regular season and tournament champions) and men’s basketball is improving (first NIT appearance in 10 years, win over a top ten ranked team in 15 and finished one win shy of the school record).
But Football is the most beloved and most important. Its once-a-week seriousness treats every game as if we are going off to war.

“I think you’re right, and the numbers show it all across the country, the point of view here, I can’t speak for other anywhere else, but it’s the engine that drives us. We have 18 other sports that benefit from the residual of football- from a financial standpoint, from a spirit and fan support standpoint, from a media coverage standpoint, I just think that football has a different place.

I think the stadiums reflect that, you don’t see basketball arenas being built to serve 60,000 people but you see that in football because there’s a demand for it. Look at what they Michigan, Ohio State did with their stadiums, and that would be our hopes here. That’s what you have to strive for: to get to that point where you need the extra seating,” Phillips said. jim_phillips_-_nu_athletic_director1

I also asked him his thoughts on my theory that although baseball is the alleged “national pastime,” but football is actually our true national game and it’s the sport which is actually most indicative of our culture.

“Your point is a really good one, there seems to be a connection with American society and what football represents in our country. No diminishing baseball, it’s a great sport, but I think they’re obviously 2 different entities,” he said.