Thomas in favor of Chicago game with NU

Photo Credit: Bradley Leeb/US Presswire

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas hopes to meet with Northwestern for a game in Chicago, potentially another matchup in Wrigley Field. Thomas is hoping the Fighting Illini can appeal to fans in the state of Illinois, specifically Chicago.

When Northwestern and Illinois took to Wrigley Field on a fall day in 2010, then-Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas was on a business trip, but flipped on the television to watch the game, intrigued by the game's novelty.

"I've heard it was an electric environment outside of the venue, and it was really a neat day for college football," Thomas said of the Wrigleyville Classic game.

Thomas, Illinois' first-year athletic director, said on Wednesday that he has spoken with Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips about the possibility of playing a game with the Wildcats in Chicago.

A potential game in Chicago between the Wildcats and Illinois would move a Northwestern home game, as was the case in 2010.

The Wrigleyville Classic was marred when the east end zone was deemed unplayable, forcing the two teams to use one end zone. Many measures would be needed to make Wrigley Field a viable option.

"Certainly, we would be advocates of doing [a game at Wrigley] again," said Thomas. "At the end of the day, we all have to feel comfortable with the facility, knowing that we'd probably like to play the game the only way it's supposed to be played."

Another possible option is for Northwestern and Illinois to meet along the lakefront at Soldier Field. Thomas said it is certainly an option.

"I know that it's an iconic venue," Thomas said of Soldier Field. "One that has great history and tradition and something I think our fans, whether in the Chicago-area or traveling from afar, would enjoy the experience."

Since becoming Illinois' athletic director, Thomas has pointed to Chicago, home to more than 20 percent of the state's population, as crucial turf in order to compete with the city's Big Ten fans. Illinois coaches often compete for recruits in the Chicago and its suburbs.

Thomas hopes the Fighting Illini can appeal to fans and prospective recruits in Chicago, but also throughout the state of Illinois, similar to Northwestern's marketing approach, which trademarks the Wildcats as "Chicago's Big Ten team."

"I like to look at University of Illinois as being the state of Illinois' Big Ten team, which includes Chicago," Thomas said. "I truly believe that."

Thomas has built a relationship with his in-state counterpart, Phillips, but the two remain competitive as they fight for turf in the Land of Lincoln.

"I have great respect for Northwestern, not only as an academic institution -- one of the best in the country -- but also what they do competitively," said Thomas. "Jim Phillips is one of the best ADs in the country. Certainly, that doesn't get in the way of my wanting to beat [Northwestern] and vice versa."

Chris Emma has covered college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports since 2009. He covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs.
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