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.