It was announced this morning that Illinois football will be playing in a 2021 regular-season game in Dublin, Ireland against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The game will take place on August 28th, 2021, as part of the Aer Lingus College Football Series.
While it seems like a neat idea on the surface, the logistics and implications of an event like this given the current state of the program open up the door for some harsh criticism.
The Event Itself
This matchup was originally scheduled to take place in Champaign in November of 2021. Since it has been moved to August, it will now be considered a "week zero" game, as it takes place a week before the standard "week one" of college football. No doubt, this will be the best scenario for travel. Worrying about an international trip and all the intricacies that go along with it in the middle of the schedule could throw off a large chunk of the season because of distractions, jet lag, and other complications.
However, while we're on the topic of distractions, an overly promoted event such as this one will certainly turn out catastrophic for the Illini. They weren't ready for Eastern Michigan, a MAC school, at home in week three this season. How on God's green earth will they be able to compete with a superior Big Ten opponent amidst the media and tourist circus leading up to the game? Spoiler alert: they won't. The Illini football social media accounts will undoubtedly be documenting the players' every move, facial expression, and reaction as they visit overly commercialized Irish tourist destinations. The game will be an afterthought. Prediction: Nebraska 42, Illinois 17. Can't wait for @IlliniFootball to tweet the final score graphic with the caption "Not the outcome we wanted, but an incredible experience overall."
Always wanted to take an Irish vacation but never pulled the trigger on it? Well, if Illini football is reason enough to do it (godspeed to you if this is the case), then make sure you do it through the official travel and ticket packages. This is the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, after all. Seriously, when you pull up Illini2Ireland.com, this is one of the first messages to flash across the screen.
When you select "view ticket details," it takes you to this list of reasonable ridiculous packages.
Only after doing some poking around in the "tickets" tab at the top of the web page will you find the option to just get a game ticket. Oh, and even then, you can't actually purchase those until early 2021.
Remember how this was supposed to be an Illinois home game? Well, if you're an Illini fan and still somehow interested in this charade, you better get on it quickly because Nebraska will have a greater share of the reserved seats.
It warms my heart to see that Illini football is serving as a crutch for Anthony Travel (the site that you have to book these packages through). It only took throwing away a Big Ten home game to do it!
As I just hinted at, perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this whole ordeal is that it takes a home game away from Illinois. Because of the alternation of host schools on a yearly basis between these two Big Ten West foes, the Illini were slated to host Nebraska in November of 2021. By moving this matchup to Ireland, Illinois will now have six Champaign home games in 2021 rather than the standard seven.
As an Illinois alumnus and a die-hard Illini fan who has been going to games in Champaign since the age of eight, I completely agree with @IllinoisLoyalty on this one. In 2021, Illinois football should be past the rebuild stage and expected to compete. I know that's almost too much to ask given how abysmal the program has been since 2012 and the current product on the field, but we're talking hypothetical timelines here. If that's somehow the case, this game in Ireland will do nothing to generate excitement around Illini football where it matters most. Spare me the lines about "international audiences" and "growing the game globally." Illinois has a problem in its own backyard that it still hasn't been able to properly address: generating excitement about the football program among the students and fanbase. As IllinoisLoyalty pointed out, "a fun week of buildup to a huge home game, followed by a great outcome" would do much more to help spark that excitement than some donors and alumni taking in a game as a small part of a week-long vacation in Ireland.
It may just be the pipe dream of a fan who has been longing for a decent product on the field for so long, but that 2021 schedule could potentially result in a bowl birth. If the Illini were to take care of business against UTSA, Maryland, Purdue, Charlotte, and Rutgers, they would have had a chance to gain that sixth win at home on November 13th against Nebraska. Only time will tell if that hypothetical situation becomes a reality, but the main takeaway still holds true: when (if) Illini football becomes competitive again, it will be in their best interest to do it in front of a home crowd that deserves to see it after supporting the program through the dark times.
Featured Photo: Illini2Ireland.com