This began as a response to mike143 on the blog I posted Friday, which lauded the Big Ten for making the decision to change Wrigley Field's ground rules approximately 30 hours before Illinois and Northwestern played the first football game there in 40 years.
But once I started expanding my thoughts, I figured it would make for a better blog. But first, here's mike143's take from Saturday morning...which he entitled "Earth to Lindsey."
"It's not the decision, it's the lameness of making that decision at the last minute.
"The Cubs put up a padded wall, and sponsor Allstate expected to get more exposure with the logos on that wall. The Cubs also paid to have goal posts constructed with an anchor going right into the top of the wall. The fans paying good money for their RF seats expected to see more action on their end. Both teams almost certainly devoted significant practice time to a different set of offensive red-zone plays, accounting for the wall.
"This is beyond weak, the people in charge having all the information they needed to make the same decision much earlier."
And here's my response:
To my way of thinking, there are three potential theories as to how the Grand Wrigley Field Experiment shook out in this manner:
1) When everyone agreed to the game in April, they didn't know exactly how close the walls would be to the field. They knew it would be relatively snug, but didn't realize the tight proximity until the field was laid out over the last month. Call this the Ignorance is Bliss Theory.
2) Everyone knew how tight it would be, but thought some squishy six-inch padding (with Allstate's name on it) covering right field's brick walls would solve the problem. Or, they thought people would ignore the problems because of the event's novelty. Call this the Ignorance is Ignorance Theory.
3) Everyone (or at least some parties) knew how tight it would be and knew the rules would need to be changed. However, if they were changed too early, they could damage the event's potential draw or even force enough of an outcry to move the game back to Ryan Field.
Obviously nobody wanted the game to leave Wrigley. Not the Cubs. Certainly not Northwestern. And why wouldn't the Big Ten want the extra marketing exposure? So in a back room somewhere, this timeline was plotted out.
Call this The Big Ten is Machiavellian Theory, but it doesn't fit if you accept Pat Fitzgerald's word after the game, when he said he'd be lying if he wasn't shocked to hear after Thursday morning's practice that the rules were on the verge of being changed.
Then again, Fitz is the boss of the Northwestern staff that, when Dan Persa got knocked out of the Indiana game with a blow to the head, the trainer went through the elaborate motions on the sidelines of pretending to test Persa's ribs...and told the sideline reporter that he had a rib injury and the wind knocked out of him.
Um, yeah. This ain't hockey where fibbing is engrained and encouraged...and I'm not sure anyone is allowed to lie to ESPN anyway. It's like lying to the father during confession.
Frankly, if one of these theories covers most of the truth, I hope the right answer is closer to 1 or 3.
I'd hate to think Northwestern and the risk managers and the lawyers and the Big Ten and everyone else who pulled off this deal actually believed the student-athletes -- the Big Ten's and Jim Phillips' and Ron Guenther's and Pat Fitzgerald's and Ron Zook's entire reason for being -- would be sufficiently safe in a normal game at Wrigley.
It took just two plays from scrimmage Saturday afternoon to see the flaws in the original plan.
Go rewind the tape and watch. Illinois' Mikel Leshoure zooms up the middle and then heads toward the right sideline on a 30-yard run. Cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety David Arnold knock Leshoure out of bounds at the 4. Leshoure and Arnold finish on the ground beyond the yard-long purple paint.
Had they been going toward the east end zone, they would've slammed into that wall that extends beyond the visitors' bullpen and heads toward the corner.
Maybe Leshoure, who didn't control his path once Mabin and Arnold got hold of him, bangs his back into the wall and sits out a quarter or two in what turned out to be a record-breaking day. Maybe Arnold, who has spent as much of his college career injured as healthy, slams his hip or his left knee into the bricks underneath the padding and misses the rest of the season.
Even Mabin kept running beyond the purple paint. He probably wouldn't have been injured, but he would have needed to jump up or otherwise brace himself for a decent blow from the padded wall.
And if you say, well, they wouldn't have dared to go near that wall if Illinois had been working toward the east end zone, then you've defeated the purpose of "Chicago's bowl game" if players can't go everywhere necessary to play the game. You might as well put Buckingham Fountain at midfield, tape some packing peanuts to its perimeter and tell the fellas to avoid it if they can.
Despite all of this foofarel, I walked out of Wrigley late Saturday night thinking the pregame atmosphere and the game itself -- complete with no Wrigley-related injuries -- was worth considering another game provided they stick with the special ground rules.
Frankly, it ought to be like the Olympics. Once every four years, Illinois and Northwestern meet at Wrigley.
Not sure how you juggle the schedule to ensure each team takes turn as the host, but, hey, they figured a way to finagle a game at Wrigley. A scheduling issue should be much easier to solve.