The smallest football stadium in the Big Ten may be getting even smaller.

As part of a plan to rebuild Ryan Field, athletics department officials at Northwestern University say they are thinking of creating “a more intimate setting,” which would be “smaller and lower” than the current 47,130 capacity stadium.

The stadium has been downsized before. At its peak, between 1954 and 1974, it had a stated capacity of 55,000 fans.

NU’s sports administrators talked about the rebuild during a virtual community meeting held Thursday evening by Evanston Ald. Eleanor Revelle, whose 7th Ward includes the stadium complex.

In football terms, Northwestern is currently on its own five yard line for the project, with 95 yards to go before crossing the goal line of a new football facility.

Denee Barracato, the athletics department official in charge of the project, said the rebuild is “only in its infancy” right now, more of a concept than a blueprint.

The goal of the virtual ward meeting, as well as with other community sessions yet to come, was to get neighborhood input and concerns, to help shape the final design.

But there’s no doubt NU wants to move forward.

Barracato said the 1926-vintage stadium is out of date, lacking amenities such as better concession stands and restrooms, more colorful scoreboards, and, significantly, handicapped access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It’s been 100 years and it’s time for us to look at what we can potentially do,” Barracato said.

Ryan Field neighbors had lots of questions, including why do this at all, how long will it take, will new scoreboard lighting disrupt the community, and will NU try to bring in professional sports or other events to help make more money?

There are few answers yet, although the plan is to use the existing stadium footprint. Timing is still up in the air. There’s no set start date, although NU officials say the football team will definitely play at Ryan Field in 2022.

Construction, whenever it begins, should take two years, and the Wildcats would have to play home games at some other yet-to-be-determined site while work is underway.

There is no intent to bring in other non-NU-football events, Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg said, “Certainly we haven’t had any discussions about pro sports.”

Financing the rebuild was not discussed, although some unnamed amount will come from the $480 million donation to the university from alums Patrick and Shirley Ryan for whom the field is already named.

Besides fan amenities, better access, and a more exciting atmosphere, another reason for the proposed rebuild is simple — to try to attract football players with a shiny new facility.

Recruiting is the name of the game in college athletics. Gragg said student-athletes “want to compete in modern, up-to-date facilities.”

More information about the proposed Ryan Field project is available at

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.