Northern Illinois, which became the first MAC school to earn a BCS bowl berth, has announced it will offer free Orange Bowl tickets to students who can get to Miami for the Jan. 1 game against Florida State.
Although offering one free ticket per student likely will lead to Northern Illinois losing money on its BCS berth, the school is willing to absorb that cost. The Huskies have been provided 17,500 tickets.
"We consider athletics to be an important part of the university for (the students)," Northern Illinois media relations associate athletic director Donna Turner said Monday. "If it gives them a good feeling about themselves, Northern Illinois and our athletic programs, that's an investment that's well worth it. When you talk about the big picture, that's more important than whatever the cost is in the short term."
It's uncertain how rare this gesture is, but representatives of two schools that are no strangers to bowls said they were unaware of this being a common practice.
"It'd be a great way to attract students, no question," Orange Bowl communications and community outreach vice president Larry Wahl said. "If you're incurring the cost of the tickets to where the cost is just transportation and housing and meals, that certainly would help."
Turner said they opened the ticket office early Monday and approximately 500 students reserved tickets.
Offering free tickets is nothing to new to Northern Illinois. Turner said the university has provided free tickets to bowl games and MAC championship games since at least its berth into the 2008 Independence Bowl.
"It's fairly standard for us to offer free tickets to students," Turner said. "This is something that is extremely important to us. When the (bowl) came about, it didn't take us long to make tickets free as well."
Of course, there is still the cost of transportation and lodging.
"They still have to get there," Turner said. "It's the not the simplest thing. We hope to have a great contingent."
Northern Illinois will hold a celebration for its football team during Wednesday's home men's basketball game at the Convocation Center. Turner said the event will honor the team for its second consecutive MAC championship and act as a pep rally for the Orange Bowl.
The Huskies earned a place in the BCS by finishing No. 15 in the BCS standings and ahead of Big Ten champion Wisconsin and Big East champion Louisville. Northern Illinois went 12-1 overall and 8-0 in the MAC this season and is riding a 12-game winning streak. Iowa defeated Northern Illinois 17-16 in its season opener for the Huskies' only loss this season.