WRIGLEYVILLE — Cementing a long-standing agreement with Northwestern University, the Chicago Cubs have pledged to bring college football to Wrigley Field in November 2020.
The 2020 game will take place 10 years after the Northwestern Wildcats faced off against the University of Illinois in a game largely overshadowed by last-minute safety concerns that rendered one end zone unusable.
With ongoing renovations designed to give the football field more room, that won't be the case this time around, said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations.
And by 2020, "we'll be ready to go," Kenney said Thursday.
"One of the scheduling difficulties is the need to preserve the field for baseball through October. We used it every day of the season last year," Kenney said of the team's World Series championship. "So we look at football, most likely in November, and see what opponent lines up that makes sense."
Ongoing renovations as part of the 1060 Project include shifting dugouts about 15 feet farther from home plate and putting the western club box wall on adjustable pegs.
Putting the western wall on pegs is a decision specifically geared toward making the ballpark more football friendly, Kenney said.
As for moving the dugouts — which will have removable tops for offseason events — Kenney said it would improve travel from the new home clubhouse and batting tunnel into the dugouts.
Nearby, the Cubs bullpens are also shifting under the bleachers. That change will make room for more premium seats as the Cubs build out luxurious premium clubs, but Kenney said moving the dugouts was an independent decision.
The changes will hopefully lessen the difficulties of squeezing a football field into the ballpark. Back in 2010, safety issues caused by the tight space led critics to call the partnership a bad plan.
Days before the 2010 game, officials decided not to use the east end zone, which bumped up against the brick wall under the right-field bleachers, for offensive plays due to concerns that players would crash into the wall. Instead, players turned around to use the other half of the football field when switching to offense.
When Northwestern played Illinois in 2010, the teams made a last-minute decision to use half the painted football field to prevent players from crashing into the brick wall below the right-field bleachers. [Subbu Arumugam/Wikimedia Commons]
The plan to bring college football to Wrigley is in line with the team owners' goal of creating a year-round destination. Hickory Street Capital, the development company also owned by the Ricketts family, has plans for a winter ice rink on the triangle plaza and a conference center in Hotel Zachary across the street.
"Our business is standard beyond just baseball," Kenney said. "For 10 years now, we've been in the music business, we've branched into football, the Winter Classic hockey game."
The hotel and its restaurants — among them, Big Star and Smoke Daddy BBQ — will be ready for Opening Day 2020, Kenney said. For fall football, the Park at Wrigley Field would offer plenty to draw in out-of-town fans.
It's possible other Northwestern sports will also get their day at Wrigley, with women's lacrosse, soccer and baseball previously cited as possibilities.
For now, though, "our focus is on football," Kenney said.
And that could even include an annual bowl game, akin to the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, in which Northwestern bested Pitt this year, 31-24.
"The question is, once we've perfected the field for Northwestern games, would we consider having a bowl game?" Kenney said. "And really, what we've said is, that makes sense."
And it seems like the Big Ten would be open to the idea.
Northwestern University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 2010 game was the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938, when DePaul University played there. The Bears also regularly played at the Friendly Confines, with the last football game of any sort played there in December 1970.
Northwestern first played at Wrigley Field in October 1923, when they faced Illinois in front of a crowd of 32,000 fans. For the 2010 game, the Cubs painted the historic marquee purple to honor the Wildcats.
In the interim, Northwestern and Illinois will play two more games at Soldier Field in 2017 and 2019.
The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by an entity controlled by a trust established for the benefit of the family of Joe Ricketts, owner and CEO of DNAinfo.com. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the management of the iconic team.
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