B.J. Luke would have preferred Hancock Stadium in Normal. The original site of the IHSA state championship football games appeals to the traditionalist in the Danville High School coach.
"Same thing with basketball — when you're a kid growing up and the games were always at the Assembly Hall (in Champaign)," Luke said.
But now that the IHSA has settled on Huskie Stadium in DeKalb as the every-other-year venue for its football title games, Luke won't quibble. On Monday, the governing body for state high school athletics announced that Northern Illinois' stadium will be the host site in odd-numbered years beginning in 2013 and running through 2021.
"Facility-wise, it's a nice facility," Luke said.
The Vikings coach speaks from experience. In his previous job at Waubonsie Valley in Aurora, Luke periodically coached at Huskie Stadium, which was the home field for conference rival DeKalb High.
"We always enjoyed going out there and playing," Luke said. "It's a nice field."
The IHSA also received bids from Illinois State (site of Hancock Stadium) and Southern Illinois in Carbondale. The need for a biennial host in addition to the University of Illinois (at Memorial Stadium) in Champaign arose when a change in Big Ten football scheduling created a conflict with dates for the IHSA state finals. The home of Illini football, which has been the site of IHSA title games since 1999, will continue to host in even-numbered years through 2020.
Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart hopes splitting locations isn't the first step toward permanently moving the finals from Champaign.
"You always worry about things going north and never coming back," said Reinhart, who guided the Warriors to state title games each of the last three years. "I'm kind of old school. I think it should be at the U of I. ... Or at least a central location like ISU. When ISU hosted before, they did a tremendous job."
Scott Hamilton, who has coached Unity to three state title games, said he was surprised to learn that Hancock Stadium wasn't selected by the IHSA's board of directors.
"But it sounds like Northern Illinois did some nice things and made a great offer," he said.
Like Luke and Reinhart, Hamilton favored ISU, which is scheduled to complete a $20 million renovation and expansion of Hancock Stadium by the start of the 2013 football season. In 1992 and '93, Hamilton was an assistant on the staff of Hardin Calhoun teams that won title games at Hancock.
"It was definitely a nice venue," he said.
Of course, as Reinhart noted, no coach who takes his team to a state final is going to be much concerned with its location.
"The bottom line is, you want to be in it," he said.
Bob’s random thought
At first glance, the move seems like a bit of a surprise. Many assumed that the games would return to Illinois State, which hosted before Illinois took over. But the Redbirds have similar home conflicts as Illinois. If it wants to have FCS playoff games at home, and that’s the plan, then Illinois State can’t commit to the state finals. It’s a great deal for Northern Illinois, a power in the MAC that heavily recruits the Chicagoland area. Every visit to the DeKalb campus provides a boost for Dave Doeren’s program, especially when competing for players against rival MAC schools.