The Bret Bielema era of Illinois football is now set to begin at Memorial Stadium on the Illini’s campus rather than overseas after Illinois and Nebraska jointly announced Wednesday that they won’t begin the 2021 season season in Dublin, Ireland, as originally scheduled. The schools cited consultation with the Irish government, medical authorities and their own staffs for leading to the decision to move the game back to the United States.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to travel to Ireland to open the 2021 football season in Dublin,” Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said. “The trip would have been a memorable experience for the young men in our football program, so I feel badly they won’t have this opportunity.”
Nebraska and Illinois will still play in the Week 0 slot on Aug. 28, however, and the game is likely to be the most attractive of the week during a soft opening to the 2021 FBS schedule. Bielema will be making his debut as the Illini’s coach while Nebraska’s Scott Frost will be entering a critical fourth season with his alma mater. Athletic directors from both schools also suggested they will look for future opportunities to play in Ireland.
“This is very disappointing for our athletic program, our team and for the fans who were planning to attend the game in Dublin,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “For our players, staff and fans, this would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We will work diligently with Irish American Events and the Big Ten Conference to find a future opportunity for us to take Fighting Illini Football to the Emerald Isle.”
The schools originally announced in 2019 that they would open the upcoming season in Ireland for a game called the Aer Lingus College Football Classic to be held at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Navy and Notre Dame were also supposed to play in Ireland to open the 2020 season, but that was canceled as well due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is desperately disappointing that it is necessary to cancel the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic but public health must take precedent,” said Neil Naughton, chairman of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. “These games offer huge publicity potential, practical economic benefits, and a genuine expression of the close ties between Ireland and the United States. We have made great friends with both the University of Illinois and the University of Nebraska and I look forward to welcoming them back to Ireland in the not too distant future and giving their travelling fans the welcome Ireland is so famous for.”
Published: 2021-02-17 22:58:54
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