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Columnist
Illinois' priorities out of whack
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/17/2009 11:53 PM

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Jim Phillips has come up with a terrific idea.

Northwestern's athletic director wants Illinois to play a football game against the Wildcats ...

In Wrigley Field!

Just as there was for the NHL Winter Classic, there would be a great atmosphere, a big buzz, a hot ticket, boffo television ratings ...

Mostly because of Wrigley Field!

A game like this would provide Northwestern with valuable local exposure it needs. It also would be neat for Illinois players from the Chicago area to play a unique game in a unique ballpark.

What state school would be reluctant to participate in something like that?

Apparently Illinois, that's who, perhaps because it fears the ghosts of the 1-13 record the Bears once suffered through in Wrigley.

This is how a Chicago newspaper quoted an Illini athletics spokesman, presumably after talking to AD Ron Guenther: "We haven't put a lot of thought into a Chicago game."

What's to think about? Something is wrong if Illinois isn't excited about the chance to play in Wrigley Field. The newspaper story went on to indicate Illinois' "top priority is to decide whether it will continue to play Missouri in St. Louis."

Maybe the Illini are afraid the Cubs, not the Bears, would rub off on them and they won't get to the Rose Bowl for 100 years.

That notwithstanding, the Illini should be looking for opportunities to showcase themselves up here rather than for reasons not to.

Listen, I understand it's all about money. Everything in college sports is about money.

But if Illinois athletic administrators decline to play this game in this ballpark they'll reinforce my suspicion that they don't want all that much to do with their fans up here.

Here's a suggestion from this Illinois alumnus: Forget Missouri and forget St. Louis; think Northwestern and think Wrigley Field.

Take every opportunity to connect with Chicago fans. Not only come to play Northwestern in football in Wrigley Field, come to play DePaul in basketball in Allstate Arena.

Do something special up here instead of just making obligatory visits to Evanston.

Sadly, my impression is that Illinois athletics would rather not have to bother with us.

Yes, the Illini do play basketball in the United Center every December. Yes, they have played the odd home football game in Soldier Field.

The folks down there probably think those small favors represent sufficient repayment for sending them our sons and daughters, some of whom are blue-chip athletes.

Other than that it's almost as if we're an inconvenience for them, a necessary evil.

Maybe it's just me but as somebody who grew up here, went to school there and returned here, I sometimes feel like the Illini consider their primary constituency to be Central Illinois and cater to that area.

OK, so I do get e-mail about alumni events in the Chicago area. But mostly I get regular mail requesting donations.

Maybe I'll send them a few bucks if they come up to play Northwestern in Wrigley Field on a cool autumn Saturday.

Honest, fellas, Carlos Zambrano promises not to bite.

mimrem@dailyherald.com