I just talked with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who shed some more light on the last-minute decision to use primarily one end zone for Saturday's Northwestern-Illinois game at Wrigley Field.
Some notes and quotes from Delany:
The Big Ten became aware of a potential NCAA rules issue Wednesday when Rogers Redding, the secretary-rules editor of the NCAA Football Rules Committee and the SEC's supervisor of officials, notified Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, after media reports surfaced with photos of the cramped East end zone. Carollo then notified Delany.
Here is the rule in question, from the NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations: "Limit lines shall be marked ... 12 feet outside the sidelines and the end lines, except in stadiums where total field surface does not permit. In these stadiums, the limit lines shall not be less than six feet from the sidelines and end lines."
Delany had been under the assumption, from talking with Northwestern officials, that the field at Wrigley complied with NCAA regulations. Athletic director Jim Phillips had brought up Idaho's Kibbie Dome and the football setup at AT&T Park for the Emerald Bowl as similar layouts. "Since the bowl game was NCAA-certified, I just presumed if it was going on out there, it must be close but legal," Delany said. "I found out later that wasn't the right assumption." Looking at pictures from the Emerald Bowl, it doesn't look like the 6-foot regulation is met.
Delany said he "had never been put on notice that this was anything other than tight, not a blatant violation of NCAA playing rules. ... Once it was obvious to me there is a rule in play and we weren't close to being in compliance with it, it was a no-brainer [to make the change]."
Delany said the Cubs, Northwestern and Illinois all were acting in good faith but that the NCAA rules issue "was never vetted until two days ago." Delany admitted that he didn't know the rule until Redding brought it to Carollo's attention.
The Big Ten and officials from both schools discussed several options for Saturday's game, including trimming 2-3 yards off of each end zone. This would have required a waiver to the NCAA and approval. "I was still concerned that even if you cut it off by two yards, you’re still in the suspect zone of 6-12 feet," Delany said. Once they decided on today's set of rules, the Big Ten and the schools petitioned the NCAA.
Responding to the Cubs' statement about the Big Ten signing off on the field dimensions, Delany said the league's involvement in the Wrigley game was mainly relating to signage, revenue sharing and issues not related to game operations. Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner visited Wrigley Field last week, but he wasn't there to sign off on the field dimensions. "Most of our conversations about the venue were about signage and camera locations, not about this tight fit," Delany said. "Then we received word that it was a total violation of NCAA rules." The Big Ten only deals with game operations issues for games on its own campuses.
Delany: "The timing is late. The decision is right. You could maybe make a decision not to change and take the risk, but if my is kid out there, I know how I'd feel about this."
Wow. A lot to digest here. Northwestern, by the way, declined to comment when reached Friday night.
I know Northwestern and the Cubs put a lot of time into assessing whether the field could safely fit. This was the No. 1 issue from the start. And while rules are rules, I'm not sure the Kibbie Dome or AT&T Park comply with them, either. There's clearly some gray area in regard to some of these venues.
Still, it's amazing that only after media reports and photos did this rule come to the Big Ten's attention. "I couldn’t have told you 72 hours ago that the rule was 12 feet slash six feet," Delany said.
Bottom line: this decision should have been made a lot sooner.