Illinois athletic event in Evanston stirs controversy

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

The Northwestern-Illinois rivalry is heating up, but not on the football field or basketball court.

The Fighting Illini announced Wednesday they will bring their annual coaches caravan to Evanston with a May 8 stop at World of Beer, 1601 Sherman Ave. The event will feature appearances by football coach Tim Beckman, men’s basketball coach John Groce, women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant and athletic director Mike Thomas.

Wildside, NU’s official student fan group, set up a Facebook event urging students to give Illinois a “warm welcome” to Evanston. The group said it would hand out free apparel outside the bar and encourage students to sing the fight song and participate in other activities to support NU while the Illinois event is going on. As of 2 p.m. Friday, nearly 250 people said they were attending on the event’s page.

The rivalry between NU and Illinois has become more contentious in recent years due to competing campaigns to attract the Chicago market. NU crowned itself “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” and the athletic department claims this helped boost ticket sales across all sports.

Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said the caravan’s Evanston event is merely meant to attract Fighting Illini fans along the North Shore.

“We certainly anticipated a reaction of some kind to the event in Evanston,” Brown said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. “Anything that heightens the exposure of college athletics in Chicago is fantastic.”

NU’s athletic department declined to comment.

— Josh Walfish