N'western to play most home football games next 2 seasons on lakefront

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Thursday, April 11, 2024

Northwestern will play most of its home football games during the 2024 and 2025 seasons at a temporary on-campus stadium flanking Lake Michigan, while construction takes place to rebuild Ryan Field.

The temporary stadium will be built on the site where the school's lacrosse and soccer teams (men's and women's) play and will continue to host events for those sports. Northwestern likely will play some home football games at Wrigley Field -- where it hosted games in 2010, 2021 and 2023 -- and possibly other Chicago-area venues, but most contests will be held on campus.

Wildcats coach David Braun told ESPN that the on-campus facility will "bridge the gap between today and a new Ryan Field," which is set to open for the 2026 season.

"We're thrilled to have something that is truly ours," Braun said. "It's playing at home, playing on campus. Part of college athletics and the thing that makes it so special is the campus community involvement. It provides the opportunity for an incredible home-field advantage."

Braun thanked university president Michael Schill, board of trustees chair Peter Barris, athletic director Derrick Gragg and coaches of other impacted teams for supporting the temporary stadium plan, which had been mentioned several years ago but wasn't considered a strong option until the past few months. Northwestern had discussions with Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and SeatGeek Stadium about hosting games in 2024 and 2025. Construction to rebuild Ryan Field, a project estimated at around $800 million, began in February.

Northwestern did not announce a specific capacity or other details for the temporary stadium, as the configuration is still being designed, other than to note that it will be "considerably less" than both the original Ryan Field (47,130) and the new version (35,000). Season-ticket holders will have the first priority to secure tickets, and students also will have a reserved section in the facility, as construction will begin this summer. Northwestern often has had sizable contingents of visiting teams' fans at its home games.

The school is partnering with InProduction, which constructed seating for last year's NASCAR event in downtown Chicago, as well as temporary seating, staging and structures for college teams at Hawai'i and Florida State.

"A lot of things still need to be worked out, but I have a lot of confidence we can troubleshoot," Braun said. "Credit to other teams that use this space for a willingness to work together to see if this was something that is truly an option. It's a tight-knit community that supported one another. I'm just really excited."

The Wildcats have home games this coming season against Miami (Ohio), Duke, Eastern Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois. Braun told ESPN that "select" games will be played on campus and some could still be moved, especially to a venue like Wrigley Field after the Major League Baseball season.

Braun said players were "thrilled" to hear about the on-campus stadium, noting that he had been frequently asked about it in recent weeks as talk of the possibility grew.

"The primary concern for me was what our student-athlete experience was going to be for two years," he said. "To have a situation where our guys aren't traveling to different venues each week, traveling long distances on buses after games, instead we're on campus. As it became apparent that we needed to explore all options, I'm proud that our university leadership made the best decision for our student-athletes.

"Our guys recognize this is an incredible opportunity."