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Is Northwestern really 'Chicago's Big Ten team?'

Written by
Chris Bourg

For nearly the entirety of their existence, the Northwestern Wildcats have struggled with fan support due to the small number of students and alumni—as well as their history of terrible athletic programs. Then, in 2010, the NU athletic department decided to brand itself as "Chicago's Big Ten Team," continuing to run advertisements with the self-appointed moniker in an attempt to gain casual sports fans in and around Chicago. So, with college football season kicking off this week, we have to ask: Is Northwestern really Chicago's Big Ten team? The answer to that is a resounding "no." Here's why.

There are no fans in Chicago: According to this graph of college football fandom created last fall by the New York Times, there are far more Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State fans in nearly every single Chicago zip code than there are Northwestern fans. From personal experience, there also seem to be a lot more Wisconsin and Michigan State fans in Chicago. The Wildcats do appear to have a stranglehold in Evanston, where the campus is located, so at least they have that going for them.

The team is in Evanston: A school in Evanston has about as much claim to Chicago as a guy from the suburbs claiming he lives in Chicago. Just because they're close to the city and have the CTA Purple Line running through town doesn't mean they're Chicago. Oak Park has similar amenities in its village and you don't hear them staking claim to Chicago. And no, having your law and medical campus in the city doesn't count either.

It's a pain to get to on game days: Trying to get to Evanston from anywhere in the city to catch a game in those high school–quality stadiums is a huge pain in the ass. Driving up there is a nightmare and the train route of taking the Red Line to transfer over to the Purple Line takes forever. If they really want Chicagoans to come to the games, Northwestern should use some of that $10.5 billion endowment of theirs to bribe Rahm into running the Purple Line express on game days.

No home field advantage exists in Chicago: To say nothing of the fact that opposing fan bases regularly invade Evanston when their team comes to town, Northwestern still doesn't get home field advantage when they play in Chicago. The football team played Illinois in Wrigley Field back in 2010 in what was supposed to be a home game for them, but they got shellacked by the Illini 48-27 and Wildcat fans were outnumbered by Illinois fans in the stadium. In fact, Illinois thinks so much of Northwestern's home field advantage in Chicago that they took the next three games scheduled in Champaign and moved them to Soldier Field.

They're just not good: The football team has won only two bowl games since 1948 and the men's basketball team has never made an NCAA Tournament appearance. The level of futility in the two major revenue sports is staggering. People in Chicago, especially if they're fans of other colleges, aren't going to watch more bad sports when the professional teams in this city provide enough of that as it is. At least when we watch the pro teams we are spared the ignominy of having to wear purple while we do so.

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