Northwestern University recently opened the long awaited Ryan Fieldhouse, the newest facility for the football program. Pat Fitzgerald, an NU alum who's been the team's head coach since 2006, had long been pushing for an upgrade to the facilities. The old facility -- which is next to Welsh-Ryan Arena and tucked behind Ryan Field -- that Fitzgerald practiced in as a player is the same one his current players had been using.
With the backing of athletic director Jim Phillips, the university finally approved the request and changed the future of the program for the better. Now the Wildcats have a state-of-the-art practice facility with today's modern college football amenities and one that has a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. Here are five reasons why Ryan Fieldhouse has taken Wildcats football to new heights.
1. Northwestern will make huge gains on the recruiting front
One of the main things that draws high school prospects to other Big Ten schools like Michigan and Ohio State is the quality of practice/workout facilities. This is one area where the Wildcats had been significantly lacking. Now that they have this shiny new building (one that publications such as the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo! Sports are already ranking among the top 10 in the country), Northwestern can promise more than just media exposure and a good education. And the Wildcats will hopefully gain more of a competitive edge on the recruiting front against Big Ten West rivals like Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
2. The program will bring in more revenue
Sponsors and donors should be licking their chops to throw some money Northwestern's way now. It's hard to say no to a practice facility tailored to today's standards and specifications. Especially one with a lakefront view in one of the nicest locations in the Greater Chicagoland area. It wouldn't surprise me if Ryan Fieldhouse gets a sponsor attached to it sooner rather than later. Ryan Fieldhouse will be the next goldmine in the Big Ten.
3. Northwestern can better develop their players for potential NFL careers
With new facilities comes upgraded weight lifting stations and workout equipment. While NU isn't exactly a factory for NFL prospects, the program has had at least one player drafted every year since 2012. And one thing that many NFL draft picks have the benefit of is top-notch facilities to train their bodies for the game. Northwestern can now provide that same benefit.
4. This is just a part of Northwestern's progression of athletics as a whole
Pat Fitzgerald has become the most successful Northwestern football coach to date. Since 2006, he's led the team to an 87-65 record, good for a winning percentage of 57.2. He's taken the Wildcats to eight bowl games and three 10-win seasons in his tenure. Ryan Fieldhouse will help bring in the players needed to continue this trend of success. At the same time, Welsh-Ryan Arena is getting a much-needed makeover on the heels of the success produced by the basketball team under head coach Chris Collins. Northwestern is slowly become an athletic institution in addition to being an academic one.
5. Pat Fitzgerald is in it for the long haul
As Fitzgerald started turning the Wildcats into a winning program, there were rumors and fears that he'd leave Evanston for a bigger job. All the while Fitzgerald was working behind the scenes to garner the support and commitment to upgrade the facilities. His perseverance and loyalty has now paid off with the opening of Ryan Fieldhouse and he's ready to take the program to the next level. Patience has paid off on both sides and as the Wildcats continue to get better, Fitzgerald will cement his coaching legacy.
-- Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.northwestern.edu)