Midweek college football. The obvious question immediately surfaces: Boon, bane, or both?
For Northern Illinois University and the Mid-American Conference, this is year 10 of The Great Experiment that the league presidents and former commissioner Rick Chryst manifested to position MAC football into the 21st century and maintain a competitive edge within the FBS realm.
To be honest, most Huskies fans merely tolerate the midweek games and probably prefer Saturday dates. It is, what it is. As a former sports information director, of course I understand the upside tradeoff – weeknight games for the national cable TV exposure on ESPN or ESPN2 and the potential of seven-figure viewing audiences.
The downside of this debate? November night games with temperatures in the 20s. Out of town fans struggling to make 6 p.m. kickoffs. Missed class time for the student-athletes on the road. Ever watch a football game on a computer via ESPNU or ESPN3? Not fun.
What about the game economics? The real bottom line. The local business community.
So let four long-time DeKalb businessmen voice their opinions about Northern Illinois football, midweek games, the upcoming IHSA football finals, etc.
Jeff Dobie, 41, owner of Fatty’s Pub & Grill, has run his establishment almost in the shadow of Huskie Stadium for 15 years. Dobie aptly described his wife and children as “an NIU family.”
On NIU’s football success: “It means everything. We’re in rarefied times. It’s like the [Michael] Jordan years with the Bulls and the six championships, maybe not on that national scale. To be on ESPN constantly, I mean, there was an NIU football helmet on ‘Pardon The Interruption.’ It’s [NIU] all over. Football is the topic of conversation all over town.
“Of course, it’s increased business. The exposure helps. Last year, the Orange Bowl reps came in here. Because of the Huskies, our website gets more hits. Whether NIU is home or away, during a football game, you cannot get a seat in here. As long as NIU is successful, there won’t be any complaints.”
On Saturday or midweek games: “The Ball State game last Wednesday was like a Saturday for us. Normally, Saturday is more profitable. A midweek game makes a Tuesday or Wednesday special. Are there too many [midweek games]? Maybe. For NIU, I think they hurt the gate. Six home games would be great. I’ll take one or two midweek games, but would prefer a 3 or 6 p.m. start on Saturday.”
On this weekend’s IHSA football finals: “To us, it’s like having another NIU home game. Those two or three days after Thanksgiving are usually our slowest days of the year.”
Louie Schoenburg, 62, owner of American Liquors, graduated from NIU in 1974, won three varsity letters in men’s soccer, and played on the Huskies’ first NCAA Tournament team as a senior. He has owned his store for 16 years.
On NIU’s football success: “This is really the first year we noticed a difference [in business]. The first home game against Eastern Illinois was crazy. It was like Homecoming. The sellouts bring a lot of people to town. It’s definitely football-related. This team has captured the town’s imagination.
“One Saturday this fall, a couple from Lake Geneva, maybe both in their 50s, came into our store. They were just looking around, kinda curious. They asked where the university was and directions to the football stadium. Yeah, they bought some stuff. This doesn’t happen without the success of the football team.”
On Saturday or midweek games: “This year we had only three Saturday home games. There’s a significant difference in business for us. I can see the reality, the balance, the importance of the midweek TV games, but it’s better for the local businesses if football games were on the weekend. It hurts [business] when we play a Big Ten team in Soldier Field. How great would it be for local businesses if Wisconsin played at Huskie Stadium?”
On IHSA football: “Absolutely [great]. I don’t know what it’s going to do, but the playoffs will bring a lot of people to town.”
George Bahramis, 37, supervisor of The Junction Eating Place, is a local-local, both a DeKalb High School and NIU grad. He remembers watching Hall of Famer Stacey Robinson (“No. 7, right?”) play in 1989-90. The Junction has been a DeKalb dining institution since 1969.
On NIU’s football success: “It’s really exciting. Our regulars come in saying ‘How about those Huskies.’ You see more Huskie gear. People plan their day around NIU games.”
On Saturday or midweek games: “The midweek games don’t attract as many customers for us. Most people work the traditional 9-to-5 shift and with a 7 p.m. kickoff maybe eat something at the game. Afterwards, they won’t stop in because it’s after 10 [p.m.]. The parents have to go to work the next day and the kids to school.
“If Ball State had been on a Saturday afternoon, 55 degrees, crowdwise, it would’ve been another Homecoming for everybody. That’s the tradeoff – the TV for publicity and recruitment. NIU has to do what it has to do. Five home games and three on Saturday. That doesn’t make us too happy. We’re not going to do the volume in the fall semester. Do you think the Nebraska AD would play on a Wednesday?”
On IHSA football: “Being the first year, we don’t know what to expect. Hopefully, we’re busy. I think NIU, DeKalb, the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention Bureau did a great job getting the championships here.”
Larry Finn, 68, owner of Pizza Villa, ranks as the grizzled veteran of the group. “The Villa” has been at its current location since 1968 and in town since 1956.
On NIU’s football success: “It’s great for business. If NIU is doing well and on ESPN, I think, in the long run, it helps everybody in town. You go on vacation and tell someone you’re from DeKalb and the reply is ‘you’ve got a good football team.’ That and ESPN has put us on the map.”
On Saturday or midweek games: “You’re always going to do more business on a weeknight [with midweek games], mostly with deliveries, but nothing compares to the weekend. When you have a 7 p.m. midweek game, the only business you’re going to have is before the game, not at 10:30 p.m. On a night like this [NIU at Toledo on Wednesday], we’ll do 30-35 percent more deliveries.
“[Football] scheduling makes a big difference. Soldier Field isn’t a home game for me or any other business in DeKalb. A 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. kickoff on a Saturday and you get business all night long.”
On IHSA football: “It’s huge. We’re opening at 11 a.m. that Friday and Saturday, which we’ve never done. Out of town people have already been calling [us]. This is good for DeKalb. Everyone will benefit.”
Midweek college football. Boon, bane, or both? You tell me.
• Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at email@example.com.