CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Champaign is the home of high school football once again in 2022, hosting state football weekend for the first time in four years, but the future of state in Champaign is up in the air as the IHSA is looking for new bidders. If it was up to Illinois head coach Bret Bielema, they wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Reconnecting with Illinois high schools has been a top priority for Illini coach Bret Bielema since he arrived. With the state finals back in Champaign this year, the High School Coaches Clinic last month offered a preview of what’s to come.
“I saw that emblem up on that screen with the state imprint in the middle of that, and that means everything to me,” Bielema said.
The next time the Illini will host isn’t clear. The agreement to alternate state weekends between DeKalb and Champaign ends after 2022. The IHSA is accepting bids for 2023 through 2027, with preference for a single destination that can host all five years. Something Memorial Stadium can’t promise, with Illinois-Northwestern set for that same weekend every other year.
“We’ve got to work within the parameters that we have,” Bielema said. “We can’t control the fact that our last game has always been against Northwestern. // We’re going to constantly always look at different options of what we can do, but there are certain things I just can’t control.”
Visit Champaign County is one of the parties involved in the re-bid process, and spearheaded the return of state basketball to the State Farm Center.
“It’s been a great experience for us having it all these years, what we hear from the IHSA is they love coming here also,” Mike Koon said.
Even though Champaign may not fit the crieteria put in place by the IHSA this time, keeping the title games at the state’s flagship university is a top priority.
“This is not unusual for them to open up a bid process just see what’s out there,” Koon said. “We’ll be discussing what we want to put in a bid because we want to be able to keep the football championship here.”
For Bielema, who grew up competing in the IHSA, keeping the games at Memorial Stadium is an important part of the programs connection to the state.
“It’s something that means a lot to me and it’s absolutely essential,” Bielema said. “Hopefully this is something we can continue to build.”
Bids are due to the IHSA this September. The five year deal the organization is looking for is half as long as the expiring one between Champaign and Dekalb. One of the big requirements is 12 thousand seats minimum, meaning many of the Division 1 schools within the state could also be eligible to bid.