November 19, 2010
We were joking, mostly, when we suggested the cramped end zone alignment for Saturday's Northwestern-Illinois game in Chicago's Wrigley Field was destined to end in disaster. Yes, the east end zone ends right at the Sheffield Avenue wall, with no space between the end line and the padded brick. No, the "Friendly Confines" haven't hosted a college football game since 1938, or any football game of any kind since the Chicago Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1970. And no, they were never particularly friendly to a full-sized football field in the first place.
But they still played on back then, didn't they? The schools knew the logisitics when they signed the contracts to play Saturday's game, right? The engineers measured it all out? The insurance companies signed off?
Well, yes. But with kickoff approaching and scrutiny over the tight fit mounting, the Big Ten decided Friday morning it just couldn't live with a wall essentially encroaching on the field, and officially took the east end zone out of commission. Oh, the show will still go on. But only going to the west, per a press release from the conference office, and with only one end zone:
The following rule changes were determined to be the best of all options and will be in effect for this game only based on the unique layout of the field.
1) All offensive plays will head toward the West end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions.
2) All kickoffs will be kicked toward the East end zone.
3) After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the West end zone.
4) As a result of a coin toss held by the conference office Friday morning, Illinois will occupy the West team bench in the first half and Northwestern will occupy the West team bench in the second half and for all overtime periods.
Indeed, the teams are going to flip ends each time the ball changes hands so that both offenses are always going in the same direction, like in those 50-yard pickup games you used to play in middle school. The spot will have to be continually walked off and re-marked on the corresponding yard line on the opposite end of the field. Basically, every change of possession becomes an end-of-quarter march. Welcome to Big Ten football, brother.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week his coaches were game-planning for the tight confines of the east end zone – "We talked already about [having a] 'Going-east red-zone game plan', [and a] 'Going-west red-zone game plan'" – but he couldn't possibly have prepared his team for this. Even Illini coach Ron Zook's analogy to playing in the Arena League pales in comparison to the unprecedented weirdness of swapping ends on every possession.
[Related: Blackout halts Cowboys-Giants game]
On the bright side, the Wildcats – playing without their injured quarterback, Dan Persa – can call dibs on Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase as all-time QB, right? Isn't that how this works? They should also declare no rushing the passer until the defense has counted to "five Mississippi," automatic timeouts for incoming cars and do-overs if anyone gets distracted by their mom calling from the stands.
[Photos: Wrigley Field and more]
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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