CHAMPAIGN - Illinois had hoped to play under Friday night lights last season. But lightning and torrential thunderstorms postponed the 2015 season opener against Kent State to the next Saturday.
But two years later, the Illini will get a second chance for a Friday night football game.
The Big Ten announced Illinois will host Nebraska on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. The Big Ten opener will be televised by ABC/ESPN, FOX or BTN.
Illinois also announced it will discontinue its biannual game at Soldier Field against Northwetsern and will instead host the Wildcats at home for those two games. Previous athletics director Mike Thomas agreed to play the 2015, 2017 and 2019 Northwetsern games at the home of the Chicago Bears.
Illinois instead plans to keep playing nonconference games at Soldier Field, starting with the Sept. 15, 2018, game against South Florida.
“We feel strongly that we should play our traditional rivalry games in Champaign, but at the same time we are committed to a strong presence in Chicago,” Whitman said in a statement. “Our intent is to play a major non-conference opponent at Soldier Field once every four years. Our team and fans enjoyed the game against Washington in 2013. It is important to maintain exposure in Chicago, and this also allows our fans and student-athletes an opportunity to experience Soldier Field.”
“With our strong ties to Chicago, playing Illinois football in historic Soldier Field will be a highlight for our players,” Smith said. “Hosting a game in Chicago is great for recruiting while also giving the largest base of Illinois graduates access to Fighting Illini football.”
The Friday night games have received backlash from some fans and high school coaches.
In a statement, the Big Ten said: "The Big Ten Conference appreciates the significance of high school football within the region and has worked to minimize the impact of this initiative by limiting the number of Friday night games. Overall, these games represent approximately six percent of Big Ten home games annually, and no institution will host more than one game in any given year. Friday night games will also be announced at least 10 months in advance to provide all parties adequate time to prepare."
Whitman said: “We are excited about these changes to our upcoming football schedules. The Friday game will provide a national platform for a marquee matchup against Nebraska.”
“The national television exposure of a Friday night game on one of the major networks will help build our program,” Head Coach Lovie Smith said.
Big Ten 2017 Friday night schedule:
Fri., Sept. 1 Washington at Rutgers
Fri., Sept. 1 Utah State at Wisconsin
Fri., Sept. 8 Ohio at Purdue
Fri., Sept. 29 Nebraska at Illinois
Fri., Oct. 13 Northwestern at Maryland
Fri., Oct. 27 Michigan State at Northwestern