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Nitz: Northwestern football game a win-win situation for NIU

DeKALB – Northern Illinois’ football game against Northwestern on Sept. 6, 2014, makes sense for everyone.

It’s great for NIU. The Huskies want their shot at an in-state opponent like the Wildcats, who have had a nice run of success under Pat Fitzgerald.

It’s a short trip for not only the team, but NIU fans in the area. How many NIU grads in the suburbs will be able to drive an hour or so to Evanston to check out the game?

Props to Sean Frazier for his first nonconference football game scheduled as the athletic director. Fans surely hope it’s a sign of things to come.

From Northwestern’s standpoint, it gets more fans into a stadium that is rarely filled to its capacity of about 47,000. The Wildcats are sort of out of place in the Big Ten. It’s a small, private institution (8,367 students, according to NU’s football media guide), and the only private school in the conference.

Unlike a state school such as Illinois or NIU, a lot of Northwestern students aren’t from the Chicago area, and there isn’t a huge base of alums in the area, which is the case for a number of Big Ten schools.

The Wildcats’ average attendance of 35,697 last year ranked last in the conference despite the fact they finished the season in the Top 25 and won their first bowl game in more than 60 years.

During the past two seasons, Northwestern has played a home nonconference schedule consisting of teams like Maine, Boston College, Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, South Dakota and Syracuse. None are sexy opponents, and I doubt any brought as big of a contingent of fans as NIU will.

It’s a good situation for everybody.

I’ve always been an advocate of NIU playing Illinois and Northwestern a lot more. Rivalries are a great part of college football, and it’s a shame that the Huskies have only played the Wildcats and Fighting Illini a combined 11 times.

Obviously it’s easier said than done, but how about this scenario? NIU and Northwestern play every other year, with every third game at Huskie Stadium. NIU and Illinois play every three years at Soldier Field. Something like this isn’t unprecedented – Colorado and Colorado State play each other in Denver every season.

For now, next year’s game in Evanston is a nonconference game fans can get excited about.

Steve Nitz is the NIU beat reporter for the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via email at and follow him on Twitter @SNitz_DDC.

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