REPORT: Illini 2020 Football Opener vs. Illinois State Still On As Scheduled

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Friday night game at Memorial Stadium marking the season opener for both Illinois and Illinois State seems to be still on as scheduled.

Despite the recent spread of positive tests for the coronavirus this summer and several Division 1 programs announcing positive tests for athletes, Illinois and Illinois are still planning for its season opener for the 2020 campaign in Champaign.

In a Monday piece for the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, Illinois State athletics director Larry Lyons said all the discussions he’s had with Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman about the Sept. 4 opener on a Friday night and scheduled to be televised by Big Ten Network have included if fans will be in the Memorial Stadium seats.

“There has been no discussion that game is in jeopardy,” Lyons said to The Pantagraph. “I’ve talked with (Illinois AD) Josh (Whitman) fairly regularly. Recent conversations have been about fans in the stands. We have every expectation that game will be played based on what we know now.”

Illinois is 3-0 all-time against Illinois State but the two programs haven’t met since 2009 when the Illini defeated the Redbirds 45-17 in Champaign. In the three all-time matchups the Illini have won by a combined score of 173-45.

A source inside the University of Illinois athletics department confirmed to Illini Now/Sports Illustrated on June 23 the “outdoor spectator sports” provision of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Stage Four reopening plan, which was implemented on June 26 was immediately being compared by athletics leadership to the multiple plans the school had already devised. However, that line in Pritzker’s plan has brought in hope that Memorial Stadium could have 20 percent capacity of fans as long as the rates for the state’s COVID-19 positive cases, hospitalizations and death rates doesn’t regress it into a previous reopening stage.

Fan capacity at Memorial Stadium in Champaign is listed at 60,670 and 20 percent of that total would supposedly allow for 12,152 fans in the stands during the state’s stage four reopening plan.

The NCAA Division I Council have already approved a six-week preseason practice model for teams preparing for the 2020 college football season. Under this approved preseason model, Illinois football can open preseason camps on Aug. 6. For teams opening their season on Saturday, Sept. 5, preseason practices can’t start until Aug. 7 but Illinois will be allowed to start these preseason activities a day earlier than the published date by the NCAA because the Illini are slated to open the 2020 schedule one night earlier against Illinois State.