Illinois is a More Balanced Sports School Than People Think

Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News wrote a post on his blog listing out all of the BCS conference schools and determining whether each one is a basketball school or a football school. He categorized Illinois as a basketball school, but said, “The Whiz Kid and Flyin’ Illini trump Butkus and Halas – barely.”

I note this because, for once, an observer that didn’t attend the University of Illinois actually nailed this right on the head – kudos to Dienhart for this. Most people outside of Illini Nation seem to automatically assume that Illinois is strictly a basketball school that doesn’t care about football. This isn’t an unreasonable premonition considering that Illinois has had one of most successful basketball programs in the country over the past decade while the football program has been correspondingly awful.

However, I’ve had to explain many times to others that Illinois isn’t anything like its Big Ten neighbor Indiana, where football season is considered a mild diversion until Midnight Madness. We do care about football and we do go to games. Is the passion for football in Champaign equal to what one would witness at Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame? Certainly not, but remember that there are only a handful of schools across the country that come anywhere close to the high levels of consistent football support seen at those schools.

My point is that no one should assume that Illinois is just a basketball school. We love the basketball program dearly and it’s definitely been the main generator of excitement for alums and those on campus for quite awhile. However, we also deeply want the football program to get back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten and finally win some Rose Bowls again. Unlike the Hoosiers, Jayhawks, or Blue Devils, it’s in the DNA of Illini Nation to truly care about the state of the football team. Hopefully, we’ll be rewarded with some gridiron success soon to match our prowess on the hardwood court.

Jamar Smith is the Illini Bomb Squad

That was a really weird scene at the beginning of the Illinois – Air Force game last night when there was hardly anyone besides the teams’ pep bands in the arena at tip-off because the game’s ticketholders hadn’t been let in yet. This was a result of a food cart that some bomb-sniffing dogs thought was suspicious. It looked like the Illini and Falcons were playing an intramural game at IMPE.

Anyway, when the crowd finally filed in, everyone was treated to Air Force’s Princeton offense that maddeningly produced wide open three-point shots for them. Fortunately, the Illini were able to counter with Jamar Smith’s own long-range capabilities to win 78-69 and advance to a tough second-round date with the Washington Huskies on Saturday. Some takes on last night’s game:

1) Big Ten Wonk – Noted that the score was particularly high considering that Air Force aims to slow down the game to where the score is as low as possible.

2) Rick Morrissey (Chicago Tribune) – Description of the weird circumstances all around with the game.

3) Jay Mariotti (Chicago Sun-Times) – Points out that the Illini need to get more scoring from their entire group if they want to advance.

4) Wayne Drehs ( – Nice ESPN review of Jamar Smith’s performance last night.

5) Bryan Burwell (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) – Illini Nation has reason to smile a little bit.

As for the rest of the NCAA Tournament field, I hope you listened to me regarding Syracuse – Texas A&M and ignored me on the Orange’s fellow Big East washouts Seton Hall and Marquette. San Diego State was hitting everything last night; fortunately for Indiana, the Aztecs couldn’t play defense. Out of all the upcoming second round matchups on Saturday, I’m most sure of the Hoosiers taking out Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ struggles against Xavier yesterday weren’t an accident – Gonzaga is one of the most overrated teams I’ve seen in a long time.

Enjoy the games this weekend and GO ILLINI!