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.
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.