10162022 tailgate 12

Illini fans tailgate in Grange Grove outside Memorial Stadium ahead of the Oct. 16 homecoming game against Minnesota.

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CHAMPAIGN — With Memorial Stadium approaching its first football sellout in six years, local police and hotels are adjusting accordingly.

By Tuesday afternoon, only a few dozen tickets were available to see No. 14 Illinois take on Michigan State on Saturday.

University of Illinois police are planning to send officers and traffic controls to intersections up to 2 miles away from the stadium on game day.

“It’s been a long time since the last sellout, so we want to ensure everyone has a great experience, all the way up to and including the time when everyone’s leaving,” said Assistant Chief Joe McCullough, who oversees special-events operations. “People are going to be waiting a little longer than they’ve been used to in the last few years.”

Saturday’s matchup makes a near-perfect recipe to pack Memorial Stadium. The Illini — ranked No. 14 by the AP and No. 16 in the season’s first College Football Playoff poll, unveiled Tuesday — are putting up their best season in more than a decade, and it’ll be Dad’s Weekend, one of the four area events that traditionally fill up local hotels.

Home2 Suites on South Neil Street is sold out this weekend and has been for quite a while, General Manager Molly Mooney said.

“I’d like to put it all on how great the team is doing, but homecoming, Dad’s Weekend, Mom’s Weekend and graduation are basically guaranteed sellouts for the whole town,” Mooney said.

Next weekend’s bookings are pacing abnormally well for the Hilton hotel, which Mooney attributes to the football team’s success. The Illini will face Purdue on Nov. 12 in their last home game of the year.

“It always is a little bit of a hindrance for us when the last game is so close to Thanksgiving,” she said. “A lot of families aren’t going to travel; they’re going to pick up their kids the next weekend. I think we’re kind of in a perfect storm with the team doing so well, the weather being nice and lots of discounts on tickets.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sold out or close to it on that Saturday.”

UI police typically deploy 60 officers on game days and expect to call in between 30 and 50 officers from surrounding agencies.

Officers will “react accordingly” to game day traffic, McCullough said, potentially sending officers and controls as far Lincoln and University avenues, Windsor Road and Race Street, or down to Curtis Road.

“We have many departments that help us, from Parkland, Rantoul, Mahomet, the sheriff’s office, Urbana and Champaign PD, Illinois State Police and even U of I Springfield police,” he said. “We could not do this without them, I’ll tell you right now.”

Beyond some heat-stroke calls in early-season sweltering games, there haven’t been any concerning security events inside the stadium this year, McCullough said. UI police have made just one arrest during football season — for a reported theft during the home opener.

McCullough’s advice for fans this weekend: Be patient, and arrive early.

“After the game, our officers are good at moving traffic, but it might take a longer time as these games are well-attended,” he said.

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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