By Dave Wischnowsky–
The Big Ten is growing.
And it has the IHSA scrambling as a result.
That’s because, thanks to Nebraska entering the Big Ten fold, beginning in 2013, the Illinois High School Association will need a venue other than the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium to host its state football finals in odd numbered years.
Since 1999, the state championships have been held on Thanksgiving weekend at Memorial Stadium. But with an expanded Big Ten starting this year, Illinois will be playing home games on Thanksgiving weekend every other year starting in 2013.
(Illinois is on the road on Thanksgiving weekend this fall and again in 2012.)
So, here’s my suggestion to the IHSA for an alternate championship venue, why not make like baseball, and let’s play two?
In 2010, the city of Peoria successfully sold the IHSA on the idea of bringing the small-school Class 1A and 2A state baseball finals to O’Brien Field in downtown Peoria for the next five years. The larger-school Class 3A and 4A state finals, meanwhile, will remain at Silver Cross Field in Joliet through 2016.
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman explained the decision by saying, “The movement of the Class 1A/2A tournament reflects our board’s philosophy to try and make our state final events more centrally located based on the location of the participants. With many of the 3A/4A qualifiers coming from Chicagoland, it made sense to leave this tournament in Joliet where it can continue to thrive.”
The same, of course, can be said for the state’s high school football teams. The bulk of the Class 5A-8A playoff qualifiers are from the Chicago area, while most of the Class 1A-4A teams hail from south of Interstate 80 and west of the suburbs.
So, my suggestion to the IHSA is that during the years when Memorial Stadium is not available, it should hold the 5A-8A state championships in the greater Chicago area at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium (Northwestern’s Ryan Field likely would also face Big Ten schedule conflicts).
And, on the flipside, hold the 1A-4A state championships in central Illinois at Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium, which hosted the state football finals until they moved to Champaign in 1999.
On Thursday, Hickman said, “We look forward to returning the IHSA Football State Finals to Memorial Stadium every other year, and will begin to investigate other potential sites to host the finals in the years that the University of Illinois is unable to host.”
But there’s no need to investigate too hard, Marty. Just take my suggestion and run it all the way to the end zone.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.