N'western to play games at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- Northwestern will play up to five football games at Wrigley Field as part of a multiyear agreement between the university and the Chicago Cubs, the two organizations announced on Tuesday.

"It's exciting and unique," Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald said at a news conference at Wrigley Field. "We came here a few years ago. It was a bowl-game-like atmosphere."

Northwestern played Illinois at Wrigley Field in November 2010, but days before the game the Big Ten announced that only one end zone would be used because of safety concerns about the distance between the back of one end zone and the brick outfield wall. On Tuesday, the Cubs said that won't be a problem moving forward.

"We would move the dugout top, and that would allow us to put a 12-foot perimeter around the whole field, which would satisfy the NCAA," Cubs president Crane Kenney said. "That's not an issue with enough time to work on it in advance and would be part of our renovation plan."

Wrigley Field is due to be renovated in the near future, and after completion, the dugout would be completely removable in the offseason, he said.

The agreement includes a business relationship as well as multiple sports besides football, including baseball, women's lacrosse and soccer using Wrigley Field for home games.

"It's become clear there are a lot of things we can do together," Kenney said. "And not just the football games. It's an extension from the classroom to the boardroom to the weight room in some ways that our organizations have embraced each other."

The Cubs used Northwestern facilities last month for a rookie training symposium while several student-athletes are interns in the Cubs front office. Kenney said the Cubs have even called upon Northwestern professors to ask about "an area of expertise" that they might be lacking. Executive education is also part of the agreement.

Football games at Wrigley Field will still be the single biggest public showing of the agreement between the two entities. Fitzgerald immediately signed off on it.

"We plan on competing for a Big Ten and national championship, and to have that kind of opportunity in recruiting to attract young men for a unique experience that no one else can sell was something that was very appealing to myself and staff," he said. "To tell kids that we're talking to right now for future signing days and say 'Hey, you're going to play in Wrigley Field,' I think that will be something exciting for kids."

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts added: "We're always looking for ways to do more at the field. We feel Wrigley is such a special place that when you come and have a great memory that it further bonds you to the building and the team. And it's great for the neighborhood too. It's a big win for everybody and anything we can do when the field isn't being used is something we should look at."

Northwestern won't play any football games at Wrigley Field in 2013 and neither side could pinpoint when the first game would occur due to upcoming changes within the Big Ten and the plans to renovate Wrigley Field. Both baseball and lacrosse have already been scheduled to play there over the next couple of years. Any football games would be scheduled for November, as the Cubs have "reserved October for playoff baseball," according to Kenney.

The Cubs will receive financial gain from the agreement and vow to return that revenue into the baseball operations department.