Football: NIU will host state finals in odd-numbered years
Updated: June 11, 2012 6:15PM
Prep football fans from the Chicago area won't have to go as far to see the state finals beginning in 2013 — at least in odd-numbered years.
The Illinois High School Association on Monday approved Northern Illinois University's bid to host the eight football title games in in DeKalb in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021. The games will remain at the University of Illinois in Champaign in even-numbered years.
But an alternate site was needed for the other years because the Fighting Illini now will be hosting home games on Thanksgiving weekend every other year.
The other bidders were Illinois State University in Normal and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
"I'm surprised," said Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch, whose team has played in five state finals in Champaign since 2006. "I thought ISU had that locked up."
IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement that all three bids were solid. But he cited one factor in favor of NIU: More than 100 athletic directors from IHSA schools signed on to support the Huskies' bid.
"It went a long way to showing us how much it meant to the entire region to have the state championships played there," Hickman said in the statement. "Ultimately, all three football bids were extremely strong and almost interchangeable."
Illinois State hosted the football finals from the beginning of the state series in 1974 to 1998 (Northwestern University hosted the two biggest classes from 1981 to '84). The games have been at Illinois since 1999.
Hickman said splitting the finals into two venues was considered, but rejected because of logistical hurdles. And SIU's bid was less attractive because of the travel factor for Chicago-area teams.
Muhitch likes NIU as a state venue.
"I think Northern has really improved their facilties," he said. "That'll give a new twist to the term 'Downstate,' that's for sure."