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Northwestern announces Peanut/Tree Nut Program

After exploring the idea of peanut-free games in 2013/14, Northwestern is taking the idea a step further. In 2014/15, 40 athletic events will be nut-free, including football games against Cal, Northern Illinois and Western Illinois, NU announced Thursday.

“In order to create a safe environment for individuals with peanut and tree-nut allergies, no products containing peanuts or tree-nuts will be sold at Ryan Field or Welsh-Ryan Arena [during the nut-free games],” a press release read. “Both venues will undergo extensive cleaning to ensure that no peanut or tree-nut material remains anywhere in the facility.”

The peanut-free initiative originated last season, with NU shutting down peanut sales at Ryan Field for the Oct. 19 game against Minnesota. And while some athletic events around the country feature specialized peanut-free seating areas, it was the first ever completely nut-free college football game.

Deputy athletic director Mike Polisky told Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com that the idea came about when the athletic department was contacted last year by a father of a Northwestern freshman. The father, whose son has a severe peanut allergy, apparently asked if there was anything that could be done that would allow his son to attend at least one game. That prompted NU to examine the possibility of a game to accommodate such allergies.

Another driving force behind Northwestern’s peanut-free movement is the increase in prevalence of peanut allergies. In just 11 years, between 1997 and 2008, the number of children with peanut allergies tripled, according to multiple studies.

The reaction to NU’s initiative has been positive. “The response to Peanut-Free Day at Ryan Field last season was overwhelming,” Polisky said in a statement. “We learned of so many families that were able to experience Big Ten football for the first time on that Saturday. This year we’re excited to be able to offer tens of thousands of Chicagoland families perhaps their first opportunity to experience college athletics at the highest level across a number of our programs.”

Most notably, the first three home football games and all 10 non-conference home men’s basketball games will be tabbed as nut-free events. Women’s basketball (6 games), wrestling (3) and volleyball (18) are also playing a part.

In addition, for football and men’s basketball, Northwestern has created ticket packages specifically tailored to those with nut allergies. The football package includes all three games for $90, while the basketball package includes all 10 games for $140.