Contrary to what you may have thought you knew about DePaul's men's basketball team, they've been playing their home games for the past 32 years in a Chicago suburb about 15 miles from campus. The Allstate Arena is actually located in suburban Rosemont, and the Blue Demons have struggled to get fans into the arena's 17,500 seats since they started playing there.
It's the longstanding problem with off-campus arenas: (the majority of) students don't want to travel to games. Sure, the school offers free shuttles from campus both to and from the games in addition to free tickets and other gimmicks, but DePaul still ranked 12th in Big East home game average attendance last season with an average of 7,740 reported tickets sold. Only Seton Hall (6,941), Rutgers (5,362) and South Florida (3,849) did worse. Syracuse (23,618) led the way.
That depite the fact that DePaul has more total students (graduate and undergraduate combined), with 25,398 students that study both in Chicago's loop and on the north side, than Syracuse (20,407), Louisville (19,743) and Marquette (11,599) — the top three teams in average home game attendance last season.
So what are the Blue Demons to do? They want to move inside the city limits. Mayor Rahm Emanuel voiced his support for the move today, and the school is seriously weighing their options as part of their 2018 strategic vision.
They released a statement today: "As noted in our strategic plan V2018, one of DePaul's goals is to seek opportunities to bring men's basketball back into the city. To that end, DePaul will consider any proposal that will help us accomplish that goal. As of now, however, nothing definitive has been forthcoming."
Here are the options they are or should consider:
1. The United Center (seating capacity: 20,917)
Pros: The UC is a huge venue that people enjoy attending. If DePaul played here it would comfortable be among the top 10 largest arenas in college basketball. I can personally say that it is a great place to watch basketball, if you aren't sitting in the 300-level. Recruits would love it.
Cons: It may be in Chicago, but it's not very close to either of DePaul's campuses. Certainly the UC isn't within walking distance for the majority of DePaul students.
Further, the Blackhawks and the Bulls already play here, and that's going to be a scheduling nightmare, especially for in-season weekend games.
Also, how can this program justify having such a huge arena? They need to start making waves first, or there will be a lot of empty seats filling TV screens. The program is on the rise, but they aren't there yet.
2. Build a new arena in the south loop, as has been reported
Pros: This would finally, truly give DePaul basketball a place to call home.
Cons: Still not walking distance to either DePaul campus, but near a bustling section of the city that is home to McCormick Place, where conventions and their attendees spend lots of time and money.
This plan sounds expensive.
3. Play on campus at alread existing McGrath-Phillips Arena (seating capacity: 3,000)
Pros: It's an awesomely intimate atmosphere for basketball. It works for Northwestern. It's on campus. The team plays most of its exhibitions here already, and somehow the women's team makes do here all season long (and gets ranked!).
The Big East has no minimum arena requirements at this time.
Cons: Yeah, it's small, and that means less tickets and revenue, and there's just no room to expand it. Probably not a long-term solution.
4. Build a new arena on the north side
Pros: Campus, residential areas and lots of el stops are just feet away. The school has been scoping out sites all over the north side for months now, reportedly in search of a space enough for a 10,000 to 12,000 seat arena. Unfortunately nothing really has come to pass officially.
Cons: Of course, this wouldn't be anything close to cheap. As this DePaulia report notes, a new arena new Lincoln Park could cost upwards of $140 million when you factor in parking.
Pros: Seriously, this place is huge: 54th largest church in the U.S., 10,000 seat capacity, 209,000 sq. feet.
Cons: Not catholic.
Chris Burrows covers mid-major, Horizon League, Chicago and whatever other niches he can find in college basketball for Run the Floor. Find him on Twitter at @HLHoops.