This weekend, Illinois is playing Northwestern at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Football…at WRIGLEY? Sounds odd. Looks odder! What’s missing in that picture above? Oh yeah…AN ENDZONE!
(Courtesy of ESPN)
Only one end zone will be used for offense Saturday at Wrigley Field for the Illinois-Northwestern game because of safety concerns, the Big Ten announced Friday, and the Chicago Cubs said the decision caught them by surprise.
The east end zone is just feet away from the right-field wall, and although there is padding, there still were concerns that players could be injured there.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had said this week that he would have different game plans for each end zone to avoid the possibility of injury.
When a team is on offense Saturday, it will be positioned to head to the west end zone.
“Though it’s not ideal, it’s the right thing,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “We’ve been planning for this for a while, there were no surprises. The field came out the way we thought, it ended up maybe being a little closer with some of the padding.
“As we looked at it — the visual aspect of it — this week, we just felt there was a low probability that something would happen. But had we taken every step that we could to ensure that the safety was maximized, and that we did everything we possibly could under our purview to make it as safe as possible? And the more we thought about it, the more we talked about it, we looked at it, we just felt like this was something we needed to do. And it was complete uniformity between the Big Ten conference, and Northwestern and Illinois. At the heart of it was to make sure we had done everything we could to make it safe.”
“The Chicago Cubs are surprised by the Big Ten’s last-minute statement regarding changes for tomorrow’s Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field,” Kenney said in the statement. “Let there be no doubt: the safety of the student-athletes has been — and remains — the number one priority since the concept of this game was first discussed more than a year ago, and all parties have gone to complete lengths to ensure student-athlete safety for this contest.
“The essential item in our negotiations to host the football game at Wrigley Field was obtaining approval of both universities and the Big Ten for the field dimensions as related to player safety issues. The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference. Last month, the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved by the Big Ten. Last week, a Big Ten official performed an on-site visit at Wrigley Field, participated in a field walk-thru and raised no issue with the field dimensions, painted lines and boundaries previously approved by the Big Ten.”
Kenney referenced Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and Army at Yankee Stadium, and said the dimensions are similar.
“This game would not have been scheduled if it did not pass the strict and meticulous standards of everyone involved, a process that began more than a year ago,” Kenney said. “All are in agreement Wrigley Field is a safe venue to host a football game. Other baseball parks, including tomorrow night’s game in Yankee Stadium, feature similar football field-to-venue grid dimensions and rule changes are not considered for football games played in other baseball parks.
“We have reached out to the Big Ten to further discuss the playing field. While we are surprised by this morning’s last-minute statement, all agree that tomorrow will be an historic event and a wonderful experience for the fans, the schools and the student-athletes.”
In a statement issued by the Big Ten, the following changes will be made:
• All offensive plays will head toward the west end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions.
• All kickoffs will be kicked toward the east end zone.
• After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the west end zone.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes is of the utmost importance,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the statement. “Both Illinois and Northwestern did significant due diligence over the past 18 months, but after seeing the actual layout of the field, all parties felt that it was appropriate to adjust the rules to further enhance the safety of our student-athletes. Wrigley Field is one of the most historic venues in the country, and playing the Illinois-Northwestern game at this facility will provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans.”
Fitzgerald applauded the decision.
“To me, it doesn’t change a whole lot,” he said. “Pictures can say a million words, but reality is reality. When you got up close to it, it was really tight. The No. 1 priority is healthy, safety and well being. It doesn’t matter if that decision was made tomorrow at 1:30 or 1:45 or 2:25 [kick-off is at 2:30 CT].
“I think this is a great decision. I think it is a tremendous show of leadership and commitment by the commissioner, both ADs and both coaches. We’re going to do what was right. All the other things are irrelevant.”