Sports briefs 8/05/2011

*Illini open preseason with 2-a-days*

Illinois opens preseason football with three days of practice in Champaign before heading north for Camp Rantoul.

The Illini opened with two-a-day sessions in Champaign on Thursday. Practices at Camp Rantoul on the former Chanute Air Force Base about 20 miles north of Champaign start Monday and run through Aug. 20. Illinois is coming off a 7-6 season that ended with a 38-14 win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

The Illini return starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase but lose key players like running back Mikel Leshoure, linebacker Martez Wilson and defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Leshoure, Wilson and Liuget all left school early and were drafted by NFL teams.

The Illini open the season Sept. 3 at home against Arkansas State.

*Big Ten to play 9 league games starting in 2017*

Big Ten football teams will begin playing nine conference games instead of eight in the 2017 season.

The conference announced the change Thursday and it came as no surprise. When the league expanded to 12 teams by adding Nebraska and split into two divisions this year, Commissioner Jim Delany said a nine-game conference schedule was being strongly considered.

The move will leave Big Ten teams with three slots in a typical 12-game regular season for nonconference opponents.

Since major college football went to a permanent 12-game regular-season schedule in 2006, booking nonconference games has become more of a challenge for many schools.

That’s the case for teams playing in the toughest conferences, trying to avoid taking on too many strong out-of-league opponents.

The Pac-10, now the Pac-12, has been playing a nine-game conference schedule for several years.

The Big Ten has been playing an eight-game conference schedule since 1985.

In 1983 and ‘84, all Big Ten teams played a nine-game conference schedule, and eight of 10 teams played nine-game schedules during the 1981 and ‘82 seasons.