Illinois Athletics has announced a three-year agreement with the city of Chicago to play the annual Illinois vs Northwestern game at Soldier Field. The first game will take place this upcoming season on Nov. 28; the two teams will also meet in Chicago for the 2017 and 2019 editions of the rivalry. Illinois last played at Soldier Field in 2013, when they 'hosted' the Washington Huskies in the first game of a home-and-home series.
Here's a statement from Athletic Director Mike Thomas on the agreement:
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 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.
According to Illinois Athletics, ticket information for the 2015 game will be available soon; the Soldier Field game will be sold separately from the standard season-ticket package. You can view the release in its entirety at FightingIllini.com
This is a pretty exciting move for Illinois football. The downside here is fairly obvious: Illinois will be losing the opportunity to have a home game against Northwestern, which is going to be an important game every year, while Northwestern will likely continue to host Illinois at Ryan Field in even-numbered seasons. However, it's likely that Illinois will have a larger fan base presence at Soldier Field for these games than they have in Champaign for the past several years.
The Northwestern game has fallen on Illinois' Thanksgiving break in recent times. That means there are very few students remaining on campus, and even fewer who are willing to brave the elements and sit in the cold at an Illini football game. By moving the venue to Soldier Field, Illinois accomplishes a couple of important goals of the program. It gains a bit more national attention due to the use of an NFL stadium for the game, it provides a great opportunity for Chicago-area high school football players to attend an Illini football game and increase the program's presence in the city, and the game will be more highly attended by both Illinois and Northwestern fans/alumni than any contest in Champaign.
In a perfect world, Northwestern would move their home games to Soldier Field as well, making this a true battle to be Chicago's Big Ten team, but that type of move remains to be seen at this point. On the whole, Illinois can really only benefit from this move, unless you think Northwestern fans are going to out-draw Illini fans by a significant amount at Soldier Field in the coming years. Which is not going to happen. Because Northwestern.
Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room and Like us on Facebook. You can follow Jim Vainisi on Twitter at @JVainisi005.