Illini, Wildcats prepare for tight quarters

When Northwestern began exploring the possibility of scheduling a football game at Wrigley Field, one question kept coming up: Will the field fit?

Turns out, it does. But just barely.

The big concern for Northwestern and Illinois on Saturday at the Friendly Confines is player safety, which officials for both teams said was the No. 1 priority going into the game. But one area of the field seems particularly cramped.

The east end zone is pushed right up against the right-field bleachers. Although the wall is heavily padded, it juts out at one point, and the back line of the end zone is separated from the pads by barely a foot.

"It will be an element in the game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "but we'll plan accordingly."

Illinois coach Ron Zook and Northwestern wide receiver Demetrius Fields both said the configuration in the east end zone could impact strategy.

"Hopefully, it's not like Arena [football] where you run into and over billboard signs," Fields said. "We're just out playing football and we trust in each other to not put us in situations to be killed."

Zook also brought up the Arena League when asked about the east end zone Tuesday.

"They've got it padded up pretty good," he said. "I jokingly told our wide receivers, 'It gets you ready for the Arena League if that's where [you go].' But there was a lot of concerns and a lot of thought put into that before the decision was made that we would play. I know [Ron] Guenther, our athletic director, that was the first question out of his mouth.

"There's two corners where it’s tight, but there's a lot of fields that have tight spots."

Safety certainly could be a subplot Saturday, although all of us hope it isn't.

There aren't as many plays that go through the back of the end zone than you might think. A bigger issue could be the south sideline, which is close to the stands.

"It took some time for the T's to get crossed and the I's to get dotted," Fitzgerald said, "so I think both universities felt great about it from a risk-management standpoint."