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Northwestern to use Wrigley for sporting events

CHICAGO -- The replica of the Wrigley Field sign at the front of the room looked familiar, but there was one distinct difference.

This one, attached to the front of a podium at Wrigley Field's United Club, was purple, with white lettering. It also featured the word Northwestern on the marquee. The reason was the announcement of a multiyear pact between Northwestern University and the Cubs that will include up to five college football games at Wrigley Field in the coming years, along with at least one other Wildcats sporting event per year at the historic venue.

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"Going back some four years now, we proposed the idea of playing football at Wrigley Field in a really unique situation and we pulled it off, with one exception, quite well," said Crane Kenney, the Cubs' president of business operations, said, referring to a 2010 football game played at Wrigley between Northwestern and Illinois.

The "exception" was the size limitations of the field, which forced both Northwestern and Illinois to run offensive plays toward the same end zone. Kenney said there are now plans, both temporary and permanent, to correct that situation.

"Over those years, as we've talked about our visions for these organizations, it's become clear there are a lot of things we can do together … and not just the football games. It really is an extension from the classroom to the boardroom to the weight room, in some ways, that our organizations have embraced each other."

As for the deal, there are multiple benefits for each side. The Cubs will not only get an added revenue stream, they can continue to use Northwestern's training facilities in the winter and occasionally seek advice in some business endeavors. Northwestern will gain a better foothold in the Chicago sports landscape, and the Wildcats will also use the agreement in recruiting efforts.

"We plan on winning and competing for a Big Ten and national championship, and to have that kind of opportunity in recruiting to attract young men for an experience that no one else can sell, along with everything we already have, was something that was very appealing to myself and our staff," Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "[For] kids that we're talking to right now, to say, 'Hey, you're going to play at Wrigley Field and you're going to be one of those young men that gets an opportunity to do that' I think will be something exciting for the kids."

The football aspect of the arrangement won't start until 2014; the scheduling of Northwestern's athletic events at Wrigley will have to mesh with the schedule of the stadium renovation. The first Wildcats sporting event at Wrigley takes place this April, when the baseball team hosts the University of Michigan.

The Wildcats women's lacrosse team will host Notre Dame in 2014, and the first of the five football games are tentatively planned for November of that year.

"To get a chance to bring our student athletes in various sports [here] to play at iconic Wrigley Field is just amazing," Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation at Northwestern, said. "So it is historic. It's innovative. You have to be innovated in today's world … [and] what better place to do it than in Chicago? It's the greatest sports city in the country. It just is. The best fans are in Chicago. The best venues are in Chicago, and nothing's more iconic than Wrigley Field."

Brian Hedger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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