Wrigley Field: Big Ten expansion you can endorse

Iowa vs. Wildcats in 2014 is a possibility

Mike Hlas
Published: February 5 2013 | 12:41 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:01 am in
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Northwestern's football program doesn't get enough credit.

I'm serious. The Wildcats went 10-3 in the 2012 season and did the unthinkable in Big Ten terms by winning a New Year's bowl. I fully understand Bill O'Brien of Penn State being awarded the Big Ten Coach of the Year. I'd have voted for him. But Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald wasn't exactly letting grass grow under his feet last autumn.

It seemed like Northwestern used to be happy just being Northwestern, the eggheads of the Big Ten. But the school seems to have decided that if it's going to be in a football superconference, it might as well act like it.

For some time now, you couldn't drive into Chicago without seeing a "Chicago's Big Ten Team" billboard.

While Ryan Field isn't what you would call a football palace, the university's board of trustees voted last fall to build amultipurpose facility on the shore of Lake Michigan that would benefit several teams, football not the least of them. It's a project that will cost from $225 million to $250 million.

That's not bread crumbs, even for some of the chardonnay-and-brie crowd that tailgates at Northwestern games.

Tuesday, the school announced something very exciting for its athletic programs, football not the least of them. Northwestern and the Chicago Cubs announced a broad partnership in which Wrigley Field will host five future Northwestern football games, the first of them in November 2014. That means either Iowa on Nov. 8 or Illinois on Nov. 29.

That assumes those dates will remain as they are (and I don't know why I would assume that), since Maryland and Rutgers are joining the Big Ten in 2014.

Nonetheless, as an Iowa sports media mope, I vote for the Nov. 8 game. And if that doesn't come to pass, I vote for the Cubs to give me full-access to the Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley this July 19.

But that aside, this really is a big-league move for Northwestern, which played a football game against Illinois in Wrigley in 2010. You can say you're Chicago's Big Ten team, but Evanston is not Chicago and vice versa. Play games in Chicago on a yearly basis, and that slogan has teeth. Which is good for Northwestern.

So is winning football games. I've seen Northwestern in some preseason 2013 Top 25s. USA Today has the Wildcats No. 22.Dennis Dodds of CBSSports.com has NU 16th, noting it has 15 returning starters.

I'm curious. Where was Northwestern in the recruiting rankings in 2008, 2009, 2010?

Oh, one more thing: Someone I know who went to that Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley in 2010 said it wasn't a great place to watch a game. However, that's what I hear from Iowa fans every time the Hawkeyes go to Northwestern, so you might as well play in Wrigleyville, right?

 

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