NIU needs to cancel classes, pack Huskie Stadium next Tuesday

By Editorial Board

NIU is always looking for a way to strengthen the campus community.

The Northern Star Editorial Board has the perfect date in mind to achieve that goal: Nov. 9.

Next Tuesday evening, NIU football hosts MAC-rival Toledo, in what is one of the biggest games in program history. With ESPN coming to DeKalb to shine a national spotlight on the Huskies, it is in both the university’s and football program’s best interest to cancel classes for the afternoon and pack Huskie Stadium.

The idea does not come without precedent. In actuality, it’s a trend mid-majors are beginning to embrace more and more when their programs are given the opportunity to be showcased on a national stage: Southern Mississippi in 2007, the University of Texas-El Paso in 2009 and, most recently, the University of Central Florida last month, to name a few notable instances.

UCF’s strategy is a template NIU should follow. In preparation for its nationally-televised matchup with the University of Alabama-Birmingham, UCF canceled afternoon classes beginning at 12:30 p.m. and through a massive campaign handed out free tickets to students, faculty, the community and surrounding area colleges.

The result: over 40,000 spectators jam-packed the stadium to watch the Knights drub UAB, 42-7.

“I think that’s great exposure for UCF, the program, the school itself,” UCF head coach George O’Leary told the Associated Press after the game. “I thought the stadium was electric out there, it’s loud and I’m sure it went over real well on [TV]. That only helps the program, it helps the school and throughout the whole country. You can’t buy that exposure.”

O’Leary is right. NIU President John Peters, an admitted football lover, and the NIU marketing department can’t buy enough billboards and ad space to match the exposure of a jam-packed, nationally-televised Huskie football game.

The Knights and NIU now sit in a similar position- enjoying tremendous success that is beginning to draw votes in both the AP Top 25 and coaches polls.

Unlike UCF’s opponent, however, Toledo is no pushover. The Rockets sit atop the MAC West along with NIU, and next Tuesday’s winner will most likely determine which team attends the MAC Championship game in Detroit.

A victory over the Rockets on national television puts NIU not only that much closer to its first top 25 ranking since 2003, but its first MAC championship since 1983.

On top of that, head coach Jerry Kill’s recruiting strategy, which is already bolstered by his third-straight bowl eligible season, becomes a lot more appealing to big-time recruits.

According to an interview with the Gaston Gazette, it’s the national exposure that helped convince 2009 JUCO leading rusher Jasmin Hopkins to commit to NIU over Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

With a crowd of 28,000 packing Huskie Stadium the recruiting fish only get bigger and the NIU community gets a shared experience it can finally rally around.