A sticky situation at Wrigley
For safety’s sake, teams to use just one end zone
CHICAGO — It sounds like something out of a backyard touch football game. No matter who has the ball, there’s only one end zone and everyone has to switch around when it’s their turn.
That’s how Northwestern and Illinois will settle things today at Wrigley Field after deciding that the friendly confines were just a little too tight — and a little too unsafe.
The Big Ten announced yesterday that the schools had agreed to some drastic and unusual changes for the game at the home of the Chicago Cubs — including running all offensive plays toward the end zone that doesn’t happen to come within a foot or so of a padded brick wall.
That change was approved along with a few others by the NCAA. And if the move sounds like a last-minute surprise, well, the Cubs thought so, too.
“The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference,’’ Cubs president Crane Kenney said. “Last month, the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved by the Big Ten. Last week, a Big Ten official performed an onsite visit at Wrigley Field, participated in a field walk-through and raised no issue with the field dimensions, painted lines and boundaries previously approved by the Big Ten.’’
Kenney even noted that tonight’s game between Army and Notre Dame would be played at Yankee Stadium on a reconfigured field and that one didn’t require any rule changes. Not that the $1.5 billion showplace of the Yankees is much like the second-oldest ballpark in the majors.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany released a statement that credited both schools with doing “significant’’ due diligence over the past 18 months. But he said the actual layout prompted the change to keep the players safe.
The problem is that the east end zone nearly abuts the right-field wall, which has been heavily padded. The field is laid out east-west for the first football game at Wrigley since the Bears left for Soldier Field in 1970; back then, Bears games were played north-south, but there wasn’t much room then, either, and everyone decided the east-west layout was the way to go for today’s in-state showdown.
The Illini and Wildcats will run their offenses toward the dugout on the third base side. All kickoffs will go the other way and after a change in possession, referees will reposition the ball to point offenses to the west. The only time a player would end up in the east end zone would be after a turnover, a punt, or a safety.
Illinois sports information director Kent Brown said concerns arose last week about “the tightness’’ of the right-field end zone.
“Any institution that plays there in the future wouldn’t want to be in this situation we’re in,’’ he said. Asked if it might have been better handled earlier: “I think everybody would agree with that, yes.’’