This Saturday, the Wildcats will face off against the Illini in a historical battle on Wrigley Field. But is it a good move? Our writers weigh in on the relative merits — or lack thereof — of playing a home game on unfamiliar, if lime-lit territory.
By Danny Russell
When Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips began his quest to have a football game at Wrigley Field, he probably hoped to bring attention to a football program looking to be known as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.” This was the kind of game that would put Northwestern in the national spotlight, and with ESPN’s College GameDay coming on Saturday, he succeeded. However, will the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley be as kind to the Wildcats as the ballpark’s name suggests?
While this game is a big step in the right direction for a Northwestern football program that is growing in popularity, it is by no means a home game, and should not be treated as such.
As seen during last week’s upset over Iowa, even at Ryan Field on Senior Day, Northwestern struggles to maintain home-field advantage in their own house. The large Iowa contingency dominated the east side of the stadium, and drowned out the Northwestern fans.
When it comes to travel and pricing issues, Illini fans in Champaign will certainly find it more difficult to travel up to Wrigley than Northwestern students who can take the El. But Iowa showed us last week that travel is not an issue for some college football fans. This doesn’t even include the fact that the Chicagoland area is filled with U of I alumni, and a historic game like this will be reason enough for students to make the trek up to Wrigley.
On top of the fact that our fans may be outnumbered, a problem that could easily happen in Evanston, Northwestern will be playing on an unfamiliar field with odd dimensions.
The field will run from what is normally home plate to the park’s right field wall. This restructuring causes an interesting dynamic in what will be the east end zone. The goal post will be sticking out of the outfield wall, leaving almost no room behind the end zone. This is first and foremost a potential safety issue, but also a quirk that neither team will be used to.
As a result of the field setup, the two teams will share a sideline. Substitutions will be more difficult, as each team’s bench may be at the opposite side of the field as the ball. While this burden will be shared by both teams, it especially affects a Northwestern team that often runs a hurry-up offense that requires frequent substitutions.
If Northwestern had been able to practice and play all of their games at Wrigley Field, these oddities would add to their home-field advantage. They would give Northwestern an edge over their opponents, who would be unfamiliar with the bizarre field. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
This Saturday’s game at Wrigley Field is a sparkling achievement for Northwestern, a game that gives Northwestern a chance to make a statement on a national stage. But let’s call it what it is: a neutral site.
By Reed Foster
This is it: the game circled on every Northwestern calendar. The day when even the most apathetic chemistry major sets aside his lab coat and his vials in exchange for a purple painted chest and several warm beers to witness the revival of a class tradition dormant since 1970. The day when Northwestern students walk a little taller, each glowing with an unspoken sentiment of “This is why I chose Northwestern.” For students, faculty and alumni alike, Christmas has come early.
Some worry that the location of the game takes away home field advantage from us, but there’s little cause for concern. 32,000 tickets were allotted to Northwestern while Illinois only received 3,000. Combined with the fact that Illinois fans face a 140-mile drive and Northwestern supporters can almost sneeze onto Wrigley Field, there’s a strong forecast for a predominantly purple atmosphere filled with key shaking and “Go U! NU!” chants. But despite raised ticket prices and slightly longer travel times, the game offers Northwestern students an opportunity unlike any experience at Ryan Field.
The greatest aspect of the game has nothing to do with money or distance or history, but instead an overwhelming Northwestern community pride. This is the first time in 40 years that any college football team has played on the historic field so integral to American sports history. Of the thousands of universities with college football programs across the country, only one plays host to such a heralded event: yours truly.
We’re recognized as a highly respected university for our intelligent students, forcing athletics to take a back seat to academics. Our football program is consistently overlooked nationally because we’re the only private school in the Big Ten conference dominated by larger public schools with more decorated football programs. Yet Saturday is a chance for exposure, not only of our nipples to the blustery Windy City, but exposure of our football program to viewers across the land. ESPN’s College Gameday crew has chosen Wrigley Field as their location for this week, a prestigious honor in the college football world that has evaded Evanston for the past 15 years. Finally we have the chance to yell and scream into the ESPN cameramen behind Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the adored Erin Andrews. Finally our team gets to showcase its talent as the world watches. We’re writing our way into history.
If the Wrigleyville Classic doesn’t have you more excited than your favorite porn, take shelter come Saturday (and watch shittier porn). Because there’s a stampede en route to Wrigley.