Wisch: Phillips, NU Need To Halt The Purple Plague

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) Perhaps it’s best for University of Illinois fans – and, heck, every citizen of Illinois – that Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips won’t be replacing Ron Guenther as athletic director in Champaign.

After all, it likely saved the entire state from being whitewashed in orange.

And I actually love the color. But, jeez, only in tactful doses.

Not garish ones.

On Wednesday morning, news broke that Phillips – a 1990 Illinois grad and Northwestern’s AD since 2008 – has agreed to an extension to stay in Evanston through 2020. But he apparently hasn’t agreed to anything about protecting people’s 20/20 vision.

Because, considering NU’s recent behavior under Phillips’ purple reign, his paintbrush is still threatening to make Chicago go blind.

On Tuesday, Northwestern unveiled four options that the school is considering for its new court when it redesigns the floor at Welsh-Ryan arena next month. It’s using Facebook to ask fans to help decide. And shockingly – but not really surprisingly – one option includes a gaudy all-purple paint job that looks like something that Prince & The Revolution dreamed up for The Chappelle Show.

Let’s just say it made me Grimace.

Exactly the way I did last fall when I watched with disdain as parts of historic Wrigley Field were slathered in purple paint for the Northwestern vs. Illinois football game at the Friendly Confines.

Back on that gameday in November, I topped my weekly Wisch List newspaper column with the headline, “Purple paint is a bruise on Wrigley,” and wrote:

“Now, I respect that today’s Big Ten tilt is officially a home game for Northwestern, and I have no problem with the Wildcats draping purple banners and flags from the ballpark’s grandstands to its bleachers and beyond.

“That’s one thing. But taking a paintbrush to the Friendly Confines? Well, that’s another.”

Most Chicagoans know that last year Wrigley’s iconic red marquee was painted purple for the college football game. But that wasn’t all. That week, in a pointless measure of overkill, workers also coated the green metal border around Wrigley’s “Cubby Hole” – that fan-friendly opening in the outfield wall along Sheffield Avenue – in a purple haze of paint.

I wasn’t exactly tickled pink.

And there were still purple splatters around the Cubby Hole as late as this spring.

Now, to be fair to Phillips and Northwestern, the not-so-bright idea of painting parts of Wrigley Field a gaudy purple last fall apparently was the brainchild of the Cubs’ marketing staff, and not the Wildcats’.

“We talked about dressing the building up so that Northwestern did not lose a home game,” Cubs President Crane Kenney explained at the time, speaking as if paint is somehow is crucial to maintaining a home-field advantage. “The marquee has been different colors over time, so painting it purple temporarily was not that difficult.”

But it sure wasn’t easy on the eyes. And I’m sure that Phillips & Co. didn’t say anything to stop the purple paint job from happening. And while it was, yes, only temporary and, yes, got people talking, the paint was also inappropriate in my book.

And I’d say the same thing if Wrigley’s marquee had been painted an Illini orange – or if Assembly Hall’s entire court was potentially going to be.

Wrigley Field is a landmark that deserved more respect than being tarted up to look like Barney’s playhouse. And Welsh-Ryan Arena, while it’s hardly a civic treasure, still deserves to hold a normal-looking basketball court.

Or, at least, the fans watching games do.

As a marketer, Jim Phillips certainly knows how to spark conversation. There’s no doubt about that. But he and his staff could use a little more taste.

So, put the purple paint bucket away, Jim.

And start having Northwestern focus on winning ballgames, instead.

davewisch Wisch: Phillips, NU Need To Halt The Purple Plague

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.


    Nice one, Dave. I agree to all of it. You’d walk out of that arena feeling like Kramer after his rods and cones were fried by the Kenny Rogers’ Chicken sign.

    As a side note, my wife just doesn’t understand how annoying the Viking horn is.
    Touchdowns, field goals, interceptions–fine. First downs? Fumbles? Three and outs? Sacks? Overkill, and now, I want nothing to do with it.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Love the Seinfeld reference, Spaulding. Very apropos. And that Viking horn, yeah, agreed … Must be something to with teams that wear purple.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Spaulding! always has LOL and yet offbeat references, such a magnificent POV.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Reminds me of one of my favorite story books from when I was 3 years old: Harold and The Purple Crayon.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I bet Phillips has that on a bookshelf in his office these days :)


    I’ve heard of that one, and thanks guys.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Right back atcha Spaulding!
    The other regular contributor who always cracks me up and/or makes me think if Murph’s Upper-Lip.

    Great piece just up on SI.com by Don Banks saying that Williams will be the X-receiver in the Martz Offense and should get 80+ balls.

    No offense to NU, great university and all, but purple is an ugglee color.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Williams will be an interesting experiment for the Bears this season, no doubt. Could pay off huge, could, um, not …

      And as for purple, it works fine for grapes and a royal robe, but I’d argue that there’s no worse color for a sweatshirt. Or, perhaps, a basketball court.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        or a tie or shirt or pants or suit……unless it’s a $5,000 suit worn by Joe from Evanston.

  • Larry Horse's Arse


    “is” not “if”

  • Mark, Sterling

    I couldn’t have said it better myself Dave! Seriously, I’m not much of a writer. I can hardly finish a sent…..

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Heh, heh, heh … well-played, Mark. Well-played.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I’m also frightened by any purple food, save a certain type of cabbage.

    Today is day 1 for me back from “hold the Mayo.”
    My Commanding Officer is well…she started seeing her own patients at 10am.

    Seriously, thanks to Dave and the regulars for helping me stay sane while spending three-plus weeks in a hotel and/or hospital room.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      That’s fantastic news, Arse! And glad that my blogs — as well as all the other talented personalities at The Score and CBSChicago.com — were able to help you pass time time and keep your wits about you.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    OK, so today I am being a hyper-active, annoying, insipid arsehat.

    Dave did a classic blog a few weeks ago about Jim Thome and HR 600.
    He is at 597 now, seems to hit about one a week as a part-time DH.
    I woulod love to see him get past Sammy because methinks Thome is legit.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Great point. Seeing Thome pass Sammy would be a sweet moment. I think it’s going to be a slow-go, but I do hope Jim gets there. He’s always seemed like a truly great guy. And one helluva slugger.

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