Chicago is the most insane sports city in the world. And it’s a crazy football town. NFL only though. This is a Bears town first and foremost. Even the Bulls and Cubs take a backseat to them. However, in college football, it's not as passionate. Who is the college football team of Chicago?
Well, you can answer that question with three different answers and they’d all be right. You could say
a.) Notre Dame maybe, sort of.
c.) a combination of four teams.
Obviously, geography has a lot to do with it. There just isn’t a team here within the city limits; you have to drive to reach all of the four candidates. So let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses for each of the four options who you could consider to be Chicago’s college football team.
I ranked them by mileage and driving time from City Front Plaza on Michigan Avenue.
That’s where all the big media corporations in this city are headquartered, so we’ll use that as “point A.”
1.) Northwestern 14.4 miles, 33 minutes
Pros: the natural choice, as they’re the closest and (if you remove the ND and NIU BCS appearances last year) arguably the most successful in the very recent past. They’ve been the most consistent winner among the four. Also, they’re marketed as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.” They have a national audience Saturday night, as they're in the best #B1G team of the weekend. 9:30 CDT at California, ESPN2. The 'Cats are 5 point favorites.
Cons: deserve a much bigger audience than they have. Ticket sales, tv ratings, and page views are just not on par with a team this consistently good. Also, when they do sell out their stadium, it’s way too many of the other team’s fans. That happens all the time during Big Ten conference play. The Wildcats are way too good to not fill a 47,000 seat stadium.
Also, it annoys me when I see Fox Sports and ESPN say “NW” in place of “NU,” because later I know I’m going to have to correct more people when I hear them make that mistake. They won 10 games last year. The networks should at least get their abbreviation correct.
“The Chicago’s Big Ten Team campaign was a group effort, but was driven by VP for Athletics & Recreation Jim Phillips and Deputy AD for External Affairs Mike Polisky. Marketing the athletic department, in general, became a priority under their leadership,” said Paul Kennedy Director of Athletic Communications.
In order to maximize media attention, the noon Pat Fitzgerald pressers were moved to 10:30 A.M. I was highly critical of this. And perhaps unfairly so. Here's the rationale behind it.
“Press conference timing was moved after consultation with all the primary television stations in Chicago. Unlike our Big Ten peers, we compete for attention with five teams in the four major sports, so we do everything we can to be considerate of people’s time commitments. 10:30am was suggested by our television colleagues as an ideal time on Mondays in the fall considering the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks schedules,” Kennedy said.
So there you go- television still rules.
Therefore, the next time I hear somebody in sports television complain how they have it so rough…how tv is losing revenue and drying up…how they can't compete with Twitter and the internet to break news...SHUT UP!
You people are still the jocks/cheerleaders of the media world. And radio/print/internet are the band nerds. T.V. is still A List, “bloggin” is Z List. So quit your whining!
2.) Northern Illinois 67.7 miles, 1 hour, 10 minutes
Pros: nation’s longest home winning streak, over the past few years they’ve had the best record out of our four candidates, even if it was against much lesser competition. If you find “mid-majors” to be “sexy” this is your team. Tickets are very, very affordable. Located reasonably close. Coming off an Orange Bowl appearance.
Cons: a year ago, we’re maybe not even bringing them up in this discussion. You know what Erin Andrews was for generating page views 2006-2010? Well, she was nicknamed Erin Pageviews for a reason, well NIU is certainly the opposite of that. And the lack of page views reflects the fact that they don’t have a high-major size fan base. Also, they need to establish consistency for many years before they can be thought of as Chicago’s home team.
3.) Notre Dame 97 miles, 1 hour, 37 minutes
Pros: the default choice, mostly because this team gets automatic fans built-in based on a combination of these factors: their illustrious history, ethnicity and religion. I would have thrown in “have all their home games nationally televised,” but this isn’t 1997 anymore. The NBC deal matters, but not really all that much anymore today as every premier program is on national television every week now. Still, the southside of Chicago is dominated by areas that seem like an amalgam of Belfast and Dublin, so ND has the most fans here in Chicago. And they have it by a large margin too. Some non-Irish Roman Catholics adopt this team too; because of Touchdown Jesus and similar religious iconography.
Cons: not just in a different state, but a different time zone. Also, the Fighting Irish are the New York Yankees, Duke, Miami Heat of college football- many sports fans will never embrace them. No matter what.
It’s just what the nature of polarization is. This team will get more media attention than any other school, and many will dislike them for that. Also, have you met a certain subset of their fan base? I’m talking about the people who “love” this team yet have absolutely zero connection to the University, South Bend or even Michiana for that matter.
Hang out with at least one of them, take this woman I know, we’ll call her “Eileen,” who still gets black out drunk at age 33, while with her parents sometimes even. She's a big ND fan yet has never even heard of Tyler Eifert. A couple hours with her and you won’t want to be a fan of ND.
Or even the human race in general.
These people are not helping the Fighting Irish out at all. And all marquee teams have fans like this. It’s not just a ND thing. If you’re the Yankees, Lakers, certainly the Bears and Packers too! You have a very big tent. And unfortunately, the tent has room for the skimmings of the gene pool.
Again, just a side effect of being an immensely popular sports franchise.
4.) Illinois 140 miles, 2 hours, 16 minutes
Pros: the biggest state school. the true team of the state of Illinois. If/when we have this same discussion for college basketball, it’s already over, Illini win hands down. Papa Bear George Halas brought his alma mater’s colors to create the Chicago Bears. Naturally, the Illini should fit the Chicago’s college football team role.
They’re really involved in Chicago, their biggest alumni base. And UI alumni rule in Chicago; much more than any other alumni group. Many Illinois students and alumni hail from the Chicago suburbs, it’s a natural fit. They changed their radio station to WSCR 670 The Score (again blue and orange), there’s Illini Day at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
“We have a sponsorship agreement with the White Sox. We have the Party in the Park at Joe’s. We play the basketball game at the United Center,” said Kent Brown, Associate Athletics Director/Media Relations at Illinois.
“We did a huge billboard on the side of a building near downtown, and several billboards. We also did several speaking engagements with Coach Beckman, Coach Groce and Mike Thomas with different UI-affiliated groups. It’s really a year-round effort,” Brown continued.
Cons: did you see them play last year? (2-10) what about 2009? (3-9) 2006? (2-10) 2005? (2-9) 2004? (3-8) 2003? (1-11) 1998? (3-8) 1997? (0-11) 1996? (2-9) Well, you get the idea. For whatever reason basketball success comes natural here as they make the NCAA Tournament all the time, and have a winning season pretty much every year. But football…the two BCS years of 2001 and 2007 look fluky when you mention the records above. And simply, "you are your record."
If Illinois could do in football what they do in basketball, they would be Chicago’s team. But they’re not, so they can’t, and they won’t, but if….(why did I just paraphrase Janet Jackson’s “If” just now?)
“Chicago is definitely our biggest market,” Brown said.
“Just as it is for every other Big Ten institution, except for maybe Penn State and Minnesota. We would include St. Louis, Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield, Decatur, Danville, Rockford and Quad Cities as Illinois markets as well.”
Synopsis: basically Chicago college football is like the United States government under the Articles of Confederation after the revolution and before the ratification at the constitutional convention in 1787. It’s a loosely conjoined band of competing interests and factions with no strong central authority. And the passion for college football here seems less than it actually is because it's broken into four pieces.
So which program will be the Federalist movement and lead a strong unified presence to rule over the nation-state?
I don’t know. After this vivisection, I’m actually more confused about who the Chicago college football team is than before I started writing this.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An analyst for 95.7 The Fan, he also writes on Chicago sports media for Chicago Now. President Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)
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