The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that it has selected ISU’s Hancock Stadium to host the state football finals for the next five years.
The IHSA chose ISU over bids from NIU and SIU. The IHSA wanted a set location for the games for the next five years. Recently the games have been rotating every year between Memorial Stadium in Champaign and Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
The University of Illinois made a bid to host every other year. Illinois can’t host the games every year due to schedule obligations.
“We appreciate all of the hosting bids that we received for the IHSA Football State Finals,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “Seeing the passion that these university communities have for hosting the state finals and the amazing stadiums that each campus offers didn’t make for an easy decision. Ultimately, the first-class facilities, amazing support from Illinois State University and the Bloomington-Normal communities, and the central location proved to be the biggest factors in returning to ISU for the next five years.”
Hancock Stadium at ISU hosted the games from 1974 through 1998. It recevied a $23 million dollar renovation in 2013 and ISU recently began construction on a new indoor football practice facility next to the stadium.
“It is a great venue,” Batavia football coach Dennis Piron said. “They take an awful lot of pride in what they do there. The improvements in that whole area of Bloomington has been tremendous. It has a lot to offer.”
Attendance has been excellent at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb and that venue’s smaller capacity gave the games a better feel than the much larger Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a great move,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “It’s great for the kids to play at a Big Ten university but you want that big game feel and it hard to get that at a place that holds 60,000 fans. I think ISU will bring that great feel we had at NIU to the table. You can just about fill that place up.”
Bloomington-Normal’s central location as long been considered ideal. It isn’t too far for Chicago area fans or the rest of the state.
“Being more centrally located is ideal,” Piron said. “It’s a vibrant community in Bloomington. I sure liked playing at NIU. It was a lot cozier [than Memorial Stadium]. I think ISU will be cozy as well.”
Hancock Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Huskie Stadium and Dyche Stadium at Northwestern are the only venues to ever host the football state finals.
“This decision wasn’t made lightly, as Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois have been incredible hosts for us through the years,” Anderson said. “We have a tremendous relationship with Champaign-Urbana and look forward to returning there in a few short months for state wrestling and boys basketball. Northern Illinois did an exemplary job, stepping up to host beginning in 2013 when the Big Ten schedule necessitated a hosting change in the midst of the contract with the University of Illinois. Southern Illinois University’s facility stacks up with any other in the state as well and the area is well-known for having a deeply-rooted high school sports fanbase. The IHSA deeply values its relationships with all of these institutions and their communities.”
Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said that he’d be happy to play the state championship game “in a cow pasture” but said that both NIU and Illinois had rolled out the red carpet for his team.
“Those were both tremendous venues,” Zvonar said. “But I had the experience of coaching title games at ISU as a young assistant coach at Lincoln-Way and it was tremendous as well. I think ISU checks off all the boxes.”