Varsity Sports at Northwestern

November 3, 2022
By AdmissionSight

Varsity Sports at Northwestern

What are the Varsity Sports at Northwestern? In the 1850s, the area that would later become the campus of Northwestern University and the city of Evanston in Illinois was farmland and swampland. The Big Ten athletic conference includes Northwestern University as a member of its Division I competition. Students parts of Varsity Sports at Northwestern can indulge their wide range of interests by participating in one of the school’s hundreds of campus organizations.

If they make it a part of their application, first-year students are guaranteed on-campus housing. The 11 residential colleges at this university each provide students with a unique experience in terms of both their academic and social lives. The primary campuses of Northwestern University are found in Evanston and Chicago, both of which are situated near Lake Michigan. Doha, Qatar, became the location of Northwestern University’s third campus when it opened in 2008.

Since the University of Chicago departed the Big Ten Conference in 1946, Northwestern has been the only private university to remain a member of the conference. Northwestern is a charter member of the Big Ten Conference. It has the fewest number of undergraduate students of any institution in the Big Ten conference, which is roughly 8,000.

The most recent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data that was made available by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) placed Northwestern University at the top of the list for all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions with an overall mark of 98%. This is the second year in a row that Northwestern has held this position. In the 15 years since GSR data was first made available, Northwestern’s GSR of 98% is tied for the all-time record in both the department and the Big Ten. The Wildcats finished ahead of every other school in the Big Ten Conference by a margin of four percentage points.

View of sports equipments placed together on the floor.

The Northwestern Wildcats football team which is part of the Varsity Sports at Northwestern is one of only five Division I football schools to receive a perfect score of 100 percent on the GSR this season. They are also the first team from a Power Five Conference to ever achieve such a feat. The next closest Big Ten program to NU in terms of GSR ranking is nine percent behind NU. For the past nine years in a row, the football team for the Wildcats has finished either first or second in the nation in GSR among FBS institutions.

Dr. James J. (Jim) Phillips, who serves as the Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University, is in charge of the athletics program, which is also known as the Northwestern University Department of Athletics and Recreation. In April of 2008, Phillips was appointed to the position of 21st Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University.

Phillips has been honored with a number of awards and appointments, including the title of Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) in both 2012 and 2016, as well as the title of Athletic Director of the Year from the Sports Business Journal in 2018. He is also the Vice Chair of the 2020-21 NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee, and it is anticipated that he will chair the committee in the following year. As head of the department, Phillips is responsible for ensuring that student-athletes have a “world-class experience” that helps them to flourish in all aspects of their lives, including academics, social lives, and athletics.

Student-athletes at Northwestern University have accomplished remarkable things academically because of Phillips’ leadership. The most recent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) results put Northwestern in first place among all FBS schools for the second year in a row. Northwestern received a score of 98 percent. Each and every year that GSR data has been made public, the Wildcats have finished in the top four among FBS institutions, achieving a score of 96 percent or better each and every time.

In addition, Phillips oversaw the establishment of the department’s NU for Life program, which gives student-athletes access to professional development opportunities and resources. He also oversaw the establishment of the department’s first-ever community relations position, which was designed to connect the department with the community. Both of these initiatives were under Phillips’ direction. In addition, with Phillips in the lead, Northwestern Athletics kicked up the current “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” promotion as well as the first master facility plan study.

What are the different Varsity Sports at Northwestern?

What are the different Varsity Sports at Northwestern? Students at Northwestern University are strongly encouraged to take part in one of the school’s many sporting programs. These programs cover both the varsity and intramural levels of athletic competition. The institution is proud of its total of 8 men’s and 11 women’s varsity sports teams. There have been 27 different teams from Northwestern that have won their conference.

View of sports equipments stacked together.

In addition to the many club sports that are offered, Varsity Sports at Northwestern University currently field a total of 19 college athletic teams (8 men’s and 11 women’s). Recent accomplishments by the Wildcats include the following: Northwestern Football’s bowl game victories (2016-2018 and 2020) and its 2018 and 2020 Big Ten West titles; Women’s Basketball winning the 2020 Big Ten regular season championship; Women’s Lacrosse winning the 2019 Big Ten tournament title and 20201 Big Ten Regular Season title; Women’s Field Hockey winning the 2021 NCAA tournament title; Softball earning the 2019 NCAA Regional Championship in Evanston; Wrestling’s Sebastian Rivera for wrestling’s recent success.

Here are the following Varsity Sports at Northwestern.

Men’s Varsity Sports

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Soccer
  • Swimming & Diving
  • Tennis
  • Wrestling

Women’s Varsity Sports

  • Basketball
  • Cross Country
  • Fencing
  • Field Hockey
  • Golf
  • Lacrosse
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Swimming & Diving
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball

Popular Varsity Sports at Northwestern

What are the most popular Varsity Sports at Northwestern? The athletic programs of Northwestern are collectively referred to as the Wildcats. Before the year 1924, people referred to them officially as “The Fighting Methodists” and informally as “The Purple.” Wallace Abbey, a writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune, gave the university the nickname “Wildcats” in 1924.

Abbey wrote that even though the university’s football team had lost to the University of Chicago, “Football players had not come down from Evanston; wildcats would be a name better suited to Coach Glenn Thistletwaite’s boys.” Abbey believed that the name “Wildcats” would be more appropriate for the players. The group was also referred to as “a Purple wall of wildcats” in the aforementioned article. A few short months later, members of the university board decided to make “Wildcats” the official moniker for the team because the term was so well received. The student body decided in 1972 to change the official nickname of the school from “Wildcats” to “Purple Haze,” but the change was never implemented. “Wildcats” is still the preferred moniker.

The Northwestern Wildcats have a number of rituals that are associated with their sporting teams. Two of these rituals are the official cry, which is “Go U! NU!” and the Wildcats’ fight song, which is “Go U! Northwestern.” “Rise Northwestern (Push on Song)” is a secondary fight song, and the final 4-measure tag of the song (which ends with a yelled “Go ‘Cats!”) is frequently played after first downs in football games.

After each game, the school’s alma mater is performed by the Marching Band and sung by the students, faculty, and spectators in the stands. In order to commemorate victories by the football team, the face of the clock tower on the south campus is illuminated in Northwestern’s signature purple color.

Here are some of the popular Varsity Sports at Northwestern.


There is evidence that the Northwestern Wildcats football team was organized as early as the year 1876; however, evidence indicates that the first game of football played at Northwestern was in the year 1882, when a group of Northwestern men competed against a group of Lake Forest men in a “football heat.”

The Wildcats finished the 1936 and 1962 seasons as the top-ranked team in the country, a feat that has not been accomplished by any other team since then and has not been matched since. The squad calls Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, their home field for its games. The Northwestern Wildcats football team has participated in a total of 16 bowl games, with 10 of those visits coming in the span of just 10 seasons (2008-2020).

During the 2016–2018 bowl season, the Wildcats were victorious in all three of their games. Despite the fact that the Wildcats had a difficult season in 2019, the year 2020 was one of their most successful seasons in recent memory. In 2020, the Wildcats won both the Big Ten West Championship and the bowl game they participated in. Additionally, on January 1, 2021, defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who has been with Northwestern Football since 2008, was awarded his 400th career victory.

Unidentified person kicking a ball in a field.

Hankwitz has been with Northwestern Football since 2008. The 1995 Northwestern Wildcats football season was perhaps the most remarkable in school history because the team won the Big Ten Championship and qualified for the Rose Bowl for the first time in almost half a century. Despite recent success, the Wildcats still maintain the record for the longest losing run in the history of Division I-A football. From 1979 until 1982, the Wildcats suffered a total of 34 consecutive defeats.


Chris Collins, who has served as the Sullivan-Ubben Head Men’s Basketball Coach since 2013, is in charge of the Wildcats men’s basketball team. He has been in this position since 2013. During the 2016–17 season, the Wildcats were led by Collins to heights that had never been achieved before. During that season, the team saw a school record of 24 wins, as well as its first berth and victory in the NCAA tournament in program history. In 2017, Collins was selected as one of the four finalists for the Naismith Trophy, which is given to the best men’s basketball coach.

The Wildcats won their lone and only national championship in 1931, as determined by the Helms Athletic Foundation and, subsequently, the Premo-Porrett Power Poll in their retrospective rankings. Since then, the Wildcats have participated in the National Invitation Tournament seven times, with their most recent appearance being in the year 2012.

View of a basketball shoes next to a ball on a floor.

On November 2, 2018, the men’s basketball program was the first to open the newly refurbished Welsh-Ryan Arena with an exhibition game versus McKendree. The game was an unofficial contest. Seating a total of 7,039 people, this state-of-the-art facility was designed to be the college athletics industry’s most accessible arena. The student section from Wildside High School is present to provide support for the team.

In addition, Joe McKeown, whose name is pronounced Mick-Q-ann, has been the head coach of the Northwestern women’s basketball team since 2008. He has held this position since 2008. Most recently, McKeown guided his Wildcats team to a regular season Big Ten title in the 2019–20 season. Additionally, the squad tied for the program’s highest 26-win total in a single season. On December 20, 2019, McKeown won his 700th game in his professional career.

Earlier in his career, McKeown was a coach at George Washington. He guided the Colonials to 14 Atlantic 10 crowns, either during the regular season or the tournament. Born and raised in Philadelphia, McKeown attended Father Judge High School, where he was honored with induction into the school’s Hall of Fame in the year 1999.

Nia Coffey was chosen by the San Antonio Stars as the fifth overall choice in the 2017 draft, making her the Wildcats’ highest draft pick in the history of the program. In 2011, Amy Jaeschke became the first player in the history of the program to be taken in the draft. The Chicago Sky drafted her 27th overall.


They have won the national championship in women’s lacrosse five years in a row, from 2005 to 2009, and then again in 2011 and 2012, giving them a total of seven championships in the past eight years. In 2007, the squad became the only other school, after Maryland, to successfully defend their title for a third consecutive year. After only five years as a varsity sport, the team had a flawless season in 2005 and defeated many long-established east-coast schools to win the school’s first national championship since 1941. This run of success began in 2005 when the team enjoyed a perfect season.

As a result of this, it is now the westernmost institution that has ever been awarded the distinction. Shortly after that, some of the team were seen wearing thong sandals or flip-flops while posing with President George W. Bush at the White House, which sparked a controversy that became known as the “White House flip-flop flap.” A perfect record was also maintained throughout the 2009 campaign.

The Wildcats have compiled a record of 106–3 during the course of their five straight championship seasons. Kelly Amonte-Hiller has been the head coach of the Wildcats since 2002. She has been in this job since the beginning of her coaching career. The Wildcats’ most recent success came in 2019 when they won their first-ever Big Ten Championship. Prior to that, in 2021, they won their first-ever Big Ten regular season championship.


The Northwestern University Fencing team is a powerhouse in the Central Collegiate Conference, where they compete, and they have a long tradition of winning. Since 2016, Zach Moss has served as the head coach of the program. He has held this position since 2016. After leading the Wildcats to their fifth-ever conference championship and finishing with three All-Americans at the NCAA Championships, Moss was honored with the title of Coach of the Year for the Midwest Fencing Conference following a historic 2017–18 season.

In addition, the team established a new record for the most wins in a season with 47, and they also established a new mark for the longest win streak in program history with 25. The 2018–19 season was another landmark year for the Wildcats, as they achieved a record of 39–5, finished in 11th place at the NCAA Championships, and won their conference championship for the second year in a row. During the course of the season, the Wildcats tallied 39 victories at the conference championships and attained the highest rating in the program’s annals by finishing the year ranked second in the country.

Does Northwestern Provide Athletic Scholarships?

Does Northwestern University Offer Scholarships for Athletes? Students who meet the requirements for the need-based Northwestern Scholarship may be awarded an endowed scholarship bearing their family name. These scholarships were founded by members of the community who have a deep commitment to the University and the work it does. There are several donors who are former students who benefited from financial aid when they were attending NU. You may be able to build a direct relationship with the donor through the use of an endowed scholarship. Most donors would be delighted to have the opportunity to meet or correspond with the students who are awarded their scholarships.

Councillor talking to a female student.

Because of the generous donations made by former students and other supporters of the Northwestern Wildcats, more than 110 student-athletes participating in a variety of Varsity Sports at Northwestern receive a distinguished endowed scholarship each year. The Endowed Athletic Scholarship Luncheon is held every year in the fall, and it is attended by both the donors and the beneficiaries of the scholarships.

Want to learn more about getting into Varsity Sports at Northwestern? You’ve come to the right place. At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process, including our athletic recruitment program.

AdmissionSight can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college this fall. Contact us today for more information on our services.

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