CHICAGO -- Northwestern finally made it official today and announced it will face rival Illinois this fall at Wrigley Field. The teams will meet Nov. 20 (ESPN or ESPN2, noon ET) in the first football game at the Friendly Confines since the Chicago Bears left after the 1970 season.
There were plenty of nuggets from today's announcement at Wrigley, and I've broken them up into categories:
Allotment: The Cubs receive 5,000 tickets, Illinois receives 3,000 and Northwestern gets the rest (30,000 plus).
Prices: Tickets range from $50-$150.
Dispersal: The Wrigley game is not included among Northwestern's season-ticket package, but season-ticket holders can buy tickets to the Illinois game. One season ticket equals one Wrigley ticket, and while requests for more tickets can be made, they're granted based on availability. NU season-ticket holders aren't required to buy tickets to the Wrigley game.
The field will run from northwest to southeast -- third-base line to right field -- and the teams will share a sideline on the northeast side so spectators in the lower levels aren't blocked. "We might have to get security between them," Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips joked.
There will be no additional seats on the field, so the normal baseball capacity of 41,210 remains in effect.
The best (and highest-priced) seats will in the upper deck on the south side of Wrigley Field (first-base side for baseball). "The field is so large and our facility is so small, there really aren't going to be bad seats," Chicago Cubs president Crane Kenney said.
Northwestern wants to have its student section in the famous bleachers that will run alongside the football field. The marching band also would be in the bleachers. Needless to say, this is a great idea.
FIELD SAFETY/GAME-DAY OPERATIONS
Of all the hurdles Northwestern and the Cubs needed to clear to finalize the game, field safety was the biggest one. Former Chicago Bears tell stories of falling into the baseball dugouts during football games, and many believed the field didn't actually measure 100 yards. Northwestern, Illinois and the Cubs consulted field engineers to ensure the configuration would meet NCAA rules and be safe for players and coaches. Kenney said there will be less room behind one of the end zones, but "we won't have any dugout falls," he said.
The entire field will be grass, as the grounds crew will fill in the base paths and shave down the pitcher's mound.
Assistant coaches not on the field will sit in suites along the first-base line.
Wrigley Field's locker-room situation is terrible, and it will be a challenge for both teams on game day. Having covered baseball in Chicago at my last job, I can tell you that both clubhouses, especially the visitors', are extremely cramped, and that's for 25-man baseball teams, not 105-man football teams. Players might have to come to the game dressed and ready to go.
Alcohol will be served, though there will be a cutoff point, much like the seventh inning for Cubs baseball games. The Cubs and Northwestern said beer sales weren't a major issue during the process.
Phillips considered playing the Wrigley game against Iowa this fall or possibly Michigan or Rice in 2011, but Illinois made the most sense. "I talked to [Iowa athletics director] Gary Barta about maybe doing the Iowa game here," Phillips said. "At the end of the day, it made the most sense to do it with the University of Illinois."
Illinois athletics director Ron Guenther said in a statement: "As someone who attended football games at Wrigley, I know of the great experience this will be for both teams and their fans. It isn't very often a college team has an opportunity to play in such a historic and unique venue and I know it will provide tremendous excitement to this annual rival game."
The new Cubs ownership seems open to football at Wrigley, but I wouldn't expect Northwestern to play there every year. Phillips called it a "test pilot for us" and couldn't commit to any future games. "I don't know if it will ever happen again in the future," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see football in Wrigley Field."
NUGGETS AND QUOTES
It's not final yet, but Fitzgerald wants the team to take the L train from Evanston to Wrigley Field before the game. Arrangement would need to be made with the train authority, but this would be a great way for Northwestern to arrive. The ride takes only 20 minutes or so.
Phillips on fan dispersal: "I know that there's risk when you come to a different venue, but I would also say if we all honestly look at what happens at Ryan Field, those kinds of things happen when you play an opponent that has a lot of alums in the area. Nothing's guaranteed, but we're doing everything we can to make sure it's as good of a home game as we possibly can have."
The Cubs say the clock on the famous Wrigley Field scoreboard still works for football and will be used Nov. 20.
Fitzgerald said he worked security at one of the Wrigley rooftops in right field during his time as a Northwestern player.