While Northern Illinois’ schedule next several seasons is tentative, its future opponents are certainly getting tougher.
The latest news came today when the university announced the Huskies will play the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. in 2016. The clash between the MAC’s current top dog and the Big Ten’s recent addition will mark the fourth time Northern Illinois will play at the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. The Huskies will travel to Memorial Stadium in 2017 and 2019 for road contests against the Nebraska.
While focus will be geared towards whether or not Cornhusker fans will outnumber Huskie fans near the lakefront of Chicago, there’s a bigger picture.
Instead of scheduling smaller out of conference programs, Northern Illinois and its athletic director Jeff Compher are continuing to take advantage of great real estate that’s only an hour away from Chicago.
The exposure of playing at Soldier Field is still a win for the Huskies, despite more times than not being out numbered and dropping their last two games against fellow Big Ten opponents the Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa Hawkeyes.
And in the coming years, there’ll be more non-conference games against formidable and respected programs. While they’re in a rebuilding mode, the Purdue Boilermakers will host the Huskies next season. The Boilermakers recently hired former Kent State Golden Flashes’ head coach Darrell Hazell for the same position. The 2013 teams will be far different from how they were fashioned – when the Huskies upset the Boilermakers 28-21 in 2009 – but it’s positive to see Compher and the NIU athletic department being committed to playing Big Ten teams.
It’s hard to envision Northern Illinois hosting one of these schools at Huskie Stadium. Chatter has increased recently about how attendance has been an issue at Huskie home games for football, but this problem hasn’t surfaced recently, as getting fans to pack Huskie Stadium has always been a problem. Not to defend a fan base that’s been scrutinized for their lack of enthusiasm, but there’s plenty of factors why Northern Illinois’ student section doesn’t show up to games: Weather, simply a lack of interest, blowout games that are settled and decided by the first half.
But if the coming years issue in a culture change within the Northern Illinois community, the university should push to host a bigger school – rather than host them at Soldier Field. The DeKalb community and Northern Illinois University student body will have to make a better effort the program, too.
It isn’t fair or plausible to consider games at Soldier Field home games when – like I said before – the road team heavily outnumbers the Huskie fan base.
Northern Illinois’ football program has seen a lot of positives the last several seasons. An indoor facility that’ll accommodate the football program and other sports is expected to open next. Encouraging publicity the school has been receiving through football has been great and the school continues to churn successful student athletes within classrooms.
But the next mark that needs to be checked off is a home game at Huskie Stadium against a respectable opponent. With the recent completion of the Huskies-Cornhuskers game set for 2016, Northern Illinois should continue to look ahead for a legitimate opponent to host in DeKalb.