CHICAGO, Ill. – Rekindling the Iowa-Illinois football rivalry means more to Illini athletic director Mike Thomas than you might expect.
The teams are scheduled to play each other Nov. 15, in Champaign, Ill., ending a six-year break in the series.
“When we went to divisions, one of the programs most often talked about was Iowa,” Thomas said Tuesday during the Big Ten Conference’s annual spring meetings, “because we haven’t played them in years.
“I think it’s a natural that we’d be playing each other.”
The Illini won the last meting 27-24, on Nov. 1, 2008. The rematch is bound to generate a buzz, but there is also an emotional connection.
Thomas’ wife, Jenifer, grew up in Manchester, Ia.
“They’re all Hawkeyes,” Thomas said of his in-laws.
Thomas, meanwhile, spent a year as an intern at the University of Iowa. He was working in marketing, promotions and game operations in 1985, when Chuck Long was quarterbacking Iowa to the Rose Bowl.
“There’s a great history there, a great tradition,” Thomas said. “I do think it’s going to have an impact more than some of our other games, because I think it’s a natural rivalry.”