In recent years, we've seen Big Ten schools like Iowa and Wisconsin play regular season football games at Soldier Field in Chicago. Iowa will be playing there again this year -- Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois. In addition, Notre Dame is playing Miami (Fla.) in Chicago on Oct. 6.
A game in a NFL stadium is a great showcase as well as a great recruiting tool for any college program. For years, I've been asking myself, "Why doesn't Illinois play a game at Soldier Field?"
I don't have to ask any longer. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Tuesday the Illini will host the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field on Sept. 14, 2013.
"This is a great opportunity for our football team to play in one of the most historic football venues in the nation," Thomas said. "Soldier Field is in an incredible location that will allow our fans in the Chicagoland area and from around the state an opportunity to watch the Fighting Illini take on an outstanding Pac-12 opponent in Washington."
No argument here. If the Illini want their "Our Team, Our State" marketing campaign to resonate, they need to become more visible and relevant in the state's biggest market -- Chicago. That means playing more games up here.
In a bit of good news for the downstate economy, Illinois isn't giving up any home games at Memorial Stadium in Champaign to pull this Chicago showcase off. Looking at the 2013 slate, there are still seven games scheduled on campus. This is a schedule that will satisfy multiple constituencies. Bravo, Mike Thomas, well done.
Believe it or not, Illinois has only played at Soldier Field once in its history. That was a 10-9 loss to Washington State on Sept. 1, 1994. That was so long ago that I was a freshman in college at the time.
Here's to hoping Illinois football won't go another 19 years in between games at Soldier Field this time.