I feel like it's my job (duty?) to never let anyone forget what this fanbase is currently being put through. It seems obvious - basketball is bad, football is bad - but I feel like it still gets lost. It's why my pinned tweet is currently the 10 longest NCAA Tournament droughts (high major teams) and the five longest bowl-less droughts (Power Five conference teams). Care to guess which school is on each list?
It's also why I'm writing this post. I know that people know, but do they really know? I get that the school needs to promote ticket sales and that official Twitter accounts need to at least have some positivity, but I'm still left with this feeling that no one really understands the current plight of this fanbase. Opposing fanbases really don't understand how bad it is, the media doesn't touch on it much - everything is discussed as a "rebuild" (as it should be) but I don't think anyone really understands the pain.
Here's just a few things that I'm not sure everyone understands:
- When the school goes over the top promoting the good teams (volleyball or golf, for example) - AS THEY SHOULD - it makes this whole football/basketball mess feel so much worse. "See? Teams CAN win at Illinois." Just not the ones that provide the entire athletic budget.
- When the 19XX football team is honored on the field at the end of the first quarter of some game where we're going to give up 60+, I find myself infuriated. It's just so hard to be reminded that it's possible to win in Champaign when we're watching a team fail at that very moment.
- I cannot look away fast enough when I see an Illini Hall Of Fame tweet in my timeline. I get that it was long overdue. I get that this was just bad timing to start it up now. But please, I'm mourning here, and your excitement about great athletes of the past sounds like laughter at a funeral to me.
- #WeWillWin is now rage-inducing for the vast majority of the fanbase. Again, I think it's correct for a leader to state the goal and rally everyone around it. This is an "everyone understands how we feel, right?" list, not a "change these things" list.
My point: we just need everyone to understand where we're at. Some fans go to far with that and fire off angry tweets at the Athletic Director, some fans are already at "fire both coaches!" - that's not what I'm going for here. The Athletic Director has arrived on campus, fired both coaches, hired two new coaches, and is outfitting them with new practice facilities as we await a turnaround. I'm a patient man and willing to see where each of these rebuilds goes.
But I still feel like the true lack of success - and the depth of our mourning as a fanbase - is being overlooked. Or perhaps misunderstood. It's really, really, REALLY hard to be an Illini fan right now.
How hard? I got to thinking last night that we probably have the single worst fan experience in the country. Yes, even worse than Rutgers. So I thought I'd make it simple: I'd simply look up wins. In the last two years - football in 2017 and 2018, basketball in 2017/18 and at the start of this season - how many wins for each Power Five team? How many times did fans get to walk out of an arena or stadium and feel good? I'm not looking at strength of schedule or even winning percentage (obviously, basketball provides a lot more opportunities for "wins") - this is a simply "how many times has the fanbase been pleased since the start of the 2017 football season?".
Here's the list of wins. The first two are, of course, infuriating.
57 Ohio State
54 Michigan State
50 Penn State
49 Mississippi State
49 Notre Dame
47 North Carolina State
46 West Virginia
46 Texas Tech
44 Texas Christian
44 Kansas State
44 Miami (FL)
43 Virginia Tech
42 Florida State
41 Arizona State
41 Oklahoma State
40 Texas A&M
39 Boston College
38 North Carolina
37 South Carolina
36 Washington State
36 Iowa State
29 Wake Forest
29 Georgia Tech
28 Ole Miss
25 Oregon State
Again, I want to be careful here. This is not a "FIRE EVERYONE" post. Everyone was already fired, and the 22 wins are still mostly on them, not the current guys. This is the hole. It might not be going anywhere, and we might have to fire these guys too, but the main reason for 22 wins is the basketball decline since 2007 and the football decline since 1995. No one has been able to resurrect either program since those dates. One year bursts, sure, but we haven't had a football program since Mackovic was hired away by Texas and we haven't had a basketball program since Self was hired away by Kansas. Tepper did OK for three years with what Mackovic left him, and Weber did great for three years with what Self left him, but since then, we're fighting with Rutgers, California, Wake Forest, and Oregon State for the title of "worst Power Five athletic department".
Right now, in the current, we're tied with California with 22 wins since the start of the 2017 football season. And Cal's number is worse because of their basketball program. 10 total basketball wins (8 in 17/18, 2 so far this season) plus 12 football wins. So they have something to hang their hat on. A football team that won seven games this year and earned their head coach a five-year extension yesterday. They have a thing to feel good about.
We have nothing. And really, it's mostly just Illinois, Rutgers, and Oregon State in that boat. Basketball has been awful at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest the last ten years, but at least they have football. I mean, Wake Forest football is going to its third consecutive bowl (!).
You have no idea what a statistic like that does to me. It's my whole woe-is-we point here. We have nothing. 22 wins and 43 losses, the worst record in the country over the last 15 months. Every other fanbase has something a little bit better. Even Rutgers basketball.
And I just want everyone to know. Please, no excitement, no laughter. We're mourning over here.