Yesterday it was announced that Illinois and Northwestern have agreed to a three-year deal to play their annual game at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2015, 2017, and 2019.
Give me a second while I hold back my excitement.
While Illinois and Northwestern may be the two of the biggest universities in the state, there are about 15 people who actually care about going to their football games.
2014 average attendance numbers would suggest that sentiment to be true as both Illinois and Northwestern’ average attendance was down from the previous year. In fact, Illinois filled roughly two-thirds of its 61,000-seat stadium for home games in 2014.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look.
So it begs the question as to why the two universities would move to a neutral site such as Soldier Field?
Here’s what Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas had to say (via The Champaign Room):
“It’s exciting to seize the opportunity to further engage our incredible number of Illinois alumni and fans in the Chicagoland area with these three football games coming to Soldier Field. As the flagship university in the state we are committed to all Fighting Illini, and as a part of that mindset, we will continue to bring a variety of athletics events to Chicago where we have the largest alumni base of any Big Ten institution.”
OK, buddy, quick thought here: What exactly are you the flagship university of? Not football. Neither of you rep the flagship football school in this state right now.
In fact, a couple clicks of the Google and you’ll easily find out that Northern Illinois has as many 10-win seasons since 2010 (five) than Illinois and Northwestern do combined.
The Huskies win total in those five seasons? 57. Northwestern and Illinois have combined for 59.
It’s safe to say that while the largest, it’s clearly not the flagship within the context of this game.
So good try, but I’ll ask you again, why Soldier Field and why now?
Aside from the clear geographical reasoning, there isn’t a whole lot else to be excited about here. Neither team looks to make any significant improvement heading into 2015. Hell, both coaches are likely to be fired after four games anyways.
I guess in some distant utopic society this attracts some of the state’s blue chip recruits but for the near future, this seems like a PR stunt to build awareness that these two schools still have football programs.
Because frankly, all I have to do is check out the stands from this past season’s Illinois-Northwestern game to know that this wasn’t done because too many people are interested in this game.
When it boils down to it, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to move this game to a 70,000-seat stadium when you can’t even fill the 47,130 at Ryan Field only 16 miles north.
Largest alumni base my ass.
(Feature Image courtesy of Bari D)