Illinois to open 2024 season in Week Zero against Eastern Illinois

By Kevin Kelley -

The Illinois Fighting Illini will open the 2024 season in Week Zero against the Eastern Illinois Panthers, has learned.

Illinois was previously scheduled to host Eastern Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., on Sept. 21, 2024. According to a copy of an amendment to the contract obtained from the University of Illinois, the two schools have agreed to reschedule the contest in for Week Zero, which is Saturday, Aug. 24 that season.

Week Zero is the unofficial name for Division I games played the Saturday prior to the Thursday that precedes Labor Day weekend. Hawaii and its opponents are allowed to play in Week Zero under NCAA rules. An exception, Bylaw, also provides FCS schools with the opportunity to play in Week Zero if the contest is against a non-conference opponent and it’s nationally televised (broadcast or cable; not Internet only).

The game against Illinois was rescheduled following the release of the 2024 Big Ten football schedule earlier this month. That schedule has Illinois traveling to open conference play against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 21, which created a scheduling conflict with the Eastern Illinois contest.

Barring any additional changes to their schedule, the Fighting Illini will have an open date during Week 1 of the season (Aug. 31) before hosting back-to-back non-conference games at Memorial Stadium against the Kansas Jayhawks on Sept. 7 and Central Michigan Chippewas on Sept. 14.

In Big Ten action in 2024, Illinois is scheduled to host Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State and travel to Nebraska, Penn State, Oregon, Rutgers, and Northwestern.

As part of the agreement to move the 2024 game to Week Zero, Illinois and Eastern Illinois have also agreed to add an additional contest during the 2027 season. Per the document, the two schools “…agree to use their best efforts to secure all necessary approvals” to play the 2027 contest in Week Zero that season (Aug. 28).

Illinois and Eastern Illinois have only met twice on the gridiron in their history. The Illini defeated the Panthers in both contests, 42-17 in 2006 and 47-21 in 2008.

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Comments (9)

This baloney. Every Division I-A school will start using that exception to play a Division I-AA opponent. Week 0 should only be for Hawaii and their opponents.

I believe it’s limited to one FCS team per FCS Conference per year, and also comes with a limit of how often any one team can do it over a set number of years.

Maybe this means the Illinois v. Purdue game gets moved to week 1 to improve the Big Ten TV inventory that weekend, which is almost all FCS or bad G5 opponents otherwise. Two P4 v P4 games are away Penn State at. WVU and USC at LSU (in Vegas) and the third, UNC at Minnesota, is already scheduled for Thursday night.

Probably not, this amendment was signed in March. So it was already done before the Big Ten schedule was set. Not sure why they didn’t and still haven’t announced this move, unless another change is coming.

“An exception, Bylaw, also provides FCS schools with the opportunity to play in Week Zero if the contest is against a non-conference opponent and it’s nationally televised (broadcast or cable; not Internet only).”

That means any team in the ACC, Big Ten, or SEC can play an FCS opponent in Week Zero as long as the game is televised on the ACC, Big Ten, or SEC conference network. (Obviously ESPN or FS1 could also televise the game, but let’s not kid ourselves — games like this will definitely be on the conference network.)

That is a big loophole. In truth, every team should be able to play in week zero. If there’s going to be big loopholes like this, the NCAA ought to just go ahead and say that any team can play any other team in week zero, no more restrictions.

It’s not as huge a loophole as it might appear. FBS-FCS games don’t draw as much interest as other games.

And again, it’s been a rule for several years. If there was a huge interest in this, it would have already happened.

M, I am in total agreement with you on this and that was the same point I was trying to make. I think you are going to see this become more and more common, especially, as the Power 5 conference schools have begun dumbing down their non-conference schedules due to the expanded playoffs starting next year with 12 teams involved. I do think you will see that in a few years the NCAA will open up week 0 to anyone who wants to play that weekend and in essence week 0 will become week 1 and the season will just be one week longer. This is especially relevant now that most conferences are nearly nationwide in geography. It allows for an extra bye week.