Daily Chronicle sports editor John Sahly and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their 2012 Take 2 column, they discuss the upcoming IHSA announcement regarding the football state finals.
Sahly: Steve, by Monday, the IHSA is expected to announce where it will award the state football finals in odd-numbered years through 2021. Northern Illinois University is one of three finalists, along with Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University. Two questions: 1. Which school would be the best fit? 2. Which school is awarded the finals?
Nitz: I honestly believe NIU is the best option. Huskie Stadium has everything that the IHSA would want in a facility, while DeKalb is in such a close proximity to the Chicagoland area. Pretty much every school in classes 5A-8A will be within two hours. Obviously it’s a shorter drive, and teams won’t need to spend the night at a hotel. There’s a reason DeKalb High School athletic director Dan Jones received letters from 114 ADs showing their support for the finals to be played at Huskie Stadium.
However, I think DeKalb will come up short when the winning bid is announced. Illinois State’s central location makes it a good fit travel-wise for schools throughout the state. Hancock Stadium also is undergoing a $20 million renovation, and let’s not forget, the IHSA’s offices are located in Bloomington – right in ISU’s backyard.
John, what’s your prediction on where the state football finals will end up, and why?
Sahly: Like you, I think DeKalb is the best fit, for all of the reasons you mentioned. The addition of the $9.5-million Chessick Practice Center, provided it’s built on schedule, makes NIU the most attractive option of the three for state-bound schools. I think the only people who wouldn’t have a good time are those in the Huskie Stadium suites, press box and TV broadcast area, all areas in desperate need of renovation/modernization.
I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not the football state finals end up in DeKalb. Although it makes the most sense for the schools, the IHSA’s actions don’t always make sense. Having the ability to walk from the main office to the football state finals is a big plus for the IHSA and gives it the ability to monitor preparations well. The central location and renovated stadium, like you said, are big pluses. Traditionally, in almost every sport, teams have to travel to the middle of the state for the state finals. It’s why it’s called going downstate.
But I keep going back to that letter, signed by 114 ADs, including some at the largest high schools in the state. On paper, in writing, the IHSA has the support of its biggest schools to place the football finals in DeKalb. I think that’s what wins it for DeKalb. I don’t think Carbondale is a realistic option, so to me it comes down to Normal and DeKalb. I think the IHSA steps out of its comfort zone and gives NIU a shot at hosting.
Nitz: I agree with you that Carbondale doesn’t stand much of a chance. The IHSA isn’t going to want suburban schools driving six hours to southern Illinois.
To me, NIU and ISU are a wash when it comes to location. The smaller schools throughout the state will prefer going to Normal, while the suburban programs will want to make the short trip to DeKalb.
I wonder how much NIU being a major college football program will be a factor. If I was running the IHSA, I would want to showcase the biggest and most popular sport at the home of a major program, not an FCS school. Of course, the IHSA hosted the state football finals at Hancock Stadium before 1999.
Sahly: Which makes it all the tougher to get a read on which site gets it. I’m sticking with my prediction, but we’ll find out soon.