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ISU Football Could Lose Payday With U of I Opener Nixed

Fans at Hancock Stadium
Izzy Carroll
Illinois State University football's season opener at Illinois on Sept. 4 has been canceled.

Illinois State University Athletics Director Larry Lyons could soon find out whether the term "guarantee" means the same thing in a pandemic world.
ISU learned Thursday one of its most highly anticipated sporting events of the fall, the football season opener against the University of Illinois in Champaign on Sept. 4, is canceled.

Lyons said he appreciated U of I Athletic Director Josh Whitman calling him ahead of the announcement that the Big Ten was canceling all non-conference football games this fall due to COVID-19.

“We agreed, let’s talk about what the terms of the contract and the ramifications of those terms are and we’ll do that in the next couple of days,” Lyons said. “There is a guarantee involved and we’ll work through those terms and come to a resolution over how that impacts this year and future years.”

ISU’s game at Illinois is referred to as a guarantee game because it locks in a payment from the host school. It’s a common practice schools that Power Five conferences employ to fill out their non-conference schedules.

ISU was “guaranteed” a $450,000 paycheck for a game that now won’t happen.

“We may have to change the nomenclature there a little bit,” Lyons mused.

Lyons said ISU would like to reschedule the game for a future season, but the next several years already are set. The Redbirds will play at Big Ten opponent Wisconsin in 2022.

The Redbirds have six home games scheduled this season, starting with the Sept. 12 opener vs. Eastern Illinois.

Lyons said news of the U of I game cancellation is disappointing as much of the fall sports season remains up in the air due to the coronavirus. Nothing else has been canceled, but seating capacity limits, particularly for indoor events, could dramatically impact the look and feel of college sports.

The Missouri Valley Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference are still meeting regularly to determine plans for the fall.

Lyons noted the state of Illinois, which has four MVC schools and three MVFC teams, has the most restrictive guidelines for hosting sporting events among the states that have schools in the two leagues.

“That might be one of the reasons why Illinois right now is in pretty good shape in terms of the metrics they are measuring in terms of the pandemic,” Lyons acknowledged.

Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan allows seating for outdoor sporting events at 20% capacity, but none would be allowed for an indoor event such as volleyball.

“I think that one might change if we continue on a good path in Illinois,” Lyons said. “Or I’m hopeful it will, that we can at least get parents and folks in but right now it’s nobody. And no tailgating.”

Lyons said many of the student-athletes are getting into a routine as they take part in socially-distanced preseason training.

The athletic department tested 160 student athletes and staff when they returned to campus this summer. Only one test came back positive. The student athlete was asymptomatic and has since been cleared to practice.

The potential lost revenue from the canceled football opener comes after ISU and all Valley schools took a $1 million hit from the men’s conference basketball tournament being scrapped last March.

Lyons said athletics also lost revenue from summer cheerleading camps being canceled. While the university was chosen to receive $16.2 million in the federal covonavirus rescue package, Lyons said he doesn’t expect athletics to receive any of the revenue, given that the funding won’t recoup all the money the university had to return to students in room and board and other fees.

“There’s needs across campus that need to be addressed,” Lyons said. “I don’t have any expectations that any money (will) come to athletics.”

The fate of sports is just one of many issues college administrators are trying to navigate as fall approaches.

ISU still hasn’t fully determined its academic and housing plans for the fall semester, citing the ever-changing virus.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at
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