By now, you've probably seen the photos out of Wrigley Field as it prepares to host this weekend's Northwestern -Illinois game, and in all likelihood you've followed up with some kind of "guess they won't be running many deep routes on that end of the field" joke. Of course, all joking aside, it appears that the Arena-league-style lack of sideline behind the east end zone -- on a field much, much larger than Arena League regulations -- could be a major injury hazard if the teams aren't very aware of their surroundings when driving towards that right-field wall.
The good news is that Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is aware of the situation , at least, and really isn't planning on running deep routes in that end of the field:
"It will definitely be a factor," Fitzgerald said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "I don't think we're going to be trying to run a lot of go routes. It's a recipe for disaster.
"We talked already about [having a] 'Going-east red-zone game plan', [and a] 'Going-west red-zone game plan.' You have to adjust to it. It's kind of like having the elements, whether it's rainy or snowy or windy, sometimes you have to adjust your game plan."
The game promises to be a huge moneymaker and attention-getter for a Wildcat program that has always struggled to make a dent in the Chicago sports consciousness, so it's no surprise that Fitzgerald is ready to make some excuses for the layout and celebrate what does promise to be a unique experience for his team and the Wildcat fans on Saturday. But there's a big, big difference between a little bit of wind and a brick wall only a few feet from the playing field; put simply, the former's not going to concuss anyone. It's also not like this was some kind of unforeseen problem :
A spot near the southwest corner of the field is about 6 feet from a padded brick wall.
Cubs president Crane Kenney called that a "pinch point" and said the team could not bulldoze it down to create more space.
"The brick wall is a landmarked feature," he said, "so that's not coming down."
Said NU athletic director Jim Phillips said. "We had risk managers out here. We had civil engineers, safety engineers. We had so many people look at it because nobody wants to put the student-athletes in harm's way.
"We vetted it through all the experts at both universities and felt like everybody was comfortable with the dimensions."
This sounds fine today. But if the constricted dimensions of the Wrigley layout lead to any injuries on Saturday, it will be well worth asking if "everybody was comfortable" because they actually were comfortable with them or if they overrode the discomfort in the name of squeezing the game into the venue. We should all hope that when Fitzgerald swears not to risk running players full-speed into the back of that end zone, he means it.