IFC hosts new tailgate to attract fraternities

Illinois+football+fans+line+the+entrance+to+Grange+Grove+waiting+for+the+football+team+to+enter+before+the+game+against+Murray+State+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Sept.+3.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois football fans line the entrance to Grange Grove waiting for the football team to enter before the game against Murray State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 3.

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

Fraternities on the University campus have rarely attended Illini football games over the past few years.

This has bugged junior Tristan Nelson, a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, ever since he got to campus as a freshman.

“When I came to school originally, I realized that we were in the Big Ten, and we were one of the few schools that didn’t have the same football atmosphere,” Nelson said. “I wanted to figure out how I could change that.”

Nelson is an employee at the University Ticket Office and the Athletic Marketing department. With that experience, he started to make a change in his own fraternity. Last season, members of SAE spent every home game in Grange Grove tailgating.

Back in April, Nelson and Interfraternity Council (IFC) Vice President of Recruitment and former Illini Media employee Mike O’Neill started planning a way to get fraternities back into Illinois football culture.

On Saturday, those plans will finally come to fruition when the IFC hosts a tailgate in Grange Grove. IFC itself will not be doing anything special at the event.

They will have food and a big space for people to hang out, but the main goal is to get the fraternity members out to the stadium and see the new environment that the Illinois athletic department has produced.

Nelson said Grange Grove was a big step in getting more students out to the games. But even with a free tailgating area, students were not finding their way out to Memorial Stadium last season.

But once Lovie Smith was hired as the head football coach, Nelson and O’Neill knew that this was their best opportunity to reel fraternities back to Memorial Stadium. Knowing that interest in Illinois football had reached its peak, Nelson and the IFC reached out to the athletic department to start planning the event.

The IFC is estimating that 600 fraternity members are going to be in attendance Saturday, but there is no official measure of attendance, so the number is subject to change.

O’Neill, a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, works in the video department for the University.

He believes that this tailgate can change the way students view football games.

“My goal is to expose kids to the tailgating atmosphere,” O’Neill said. “It is just not something you see that much on our campus. Hopefully they will see that it is a fun option to go out and have fun on Saturday mornings, and also go to the game and bring some school spirit to our fraternity culture. I think that that is lacking in our fraternity culture a lot of the time.”

The Week Two matchup against North Carolina is the perfect game for IFC — it’s a primetime matchup, and it is the first big challenge for the Smith-led Illini.

Jason Heggemeyer, associate athletic director for Illinois, tweeted Tuesday that there were only 3,000 regular admission tickets left.

In addition to the football atmosphere, fraternities will have a final chance to recruit new members as it’s the last weekend of rush.

The two students worked closely with Associate Director of Athletics, Marketing and Fan Development Brad Wurthman when putting the event together.

Nelson said planning the event itself was not too laborious because the athletic department provided a place like Grange Grove. Wurthman advised Nelson and O’Neill, but he mostly took care of making the game day experience the best it can be this Saturday.

“It is on us (in the athletic department) to give them an opportunity to enjoy themselves,” Wurthman said. “The experience they have will blow people away. Once they are in, and they are at Grange Grove, they will realize that this is a completely different experience then what they are used to.”

However, there is a difference between getting students to tailgate and actually getting students into the stadium to watch the game.

There are several promotions to try to lure students into the game. Saturday is “Hail to the Orange Night” in Memorial Stadium, so everybody attending is asked to wear orange, and the first 5,000 students who enter will be given free t-shirts.

There will also be a ticket trailer in Grange Grove that will only sell tickets to students looking for last minute seats.

Nelson is a junior, and  his remaining time on campus is limited. He knows that a full change won’t happen in the next two years.

But to change the dynamic in the next two years is not his end goal.

“The goal is to make it so it’s not something that I am organizing,” Nelson said. “I want it to be something that people just want to do. It is not really something that I want to have just for me. It’s something that I want everyone to have.”

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