Unfinished Business

Mar 13, 2020

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Never really been at this much of a loss for words. Not just because of these unprecedented times, but because of this overwhelming "what am I supposed to do now"? When you quit your job and plan this big "cover the BTT, then travel to every Tournament game" kickstart to IlliniBoard 2.0, what are you supposed to do when you have nothing to write about until August (if that's even the return date)?

This is not a "poor me" post, even though I just started with a poor me paragraph. This is a Stream Of Consciousness post. I'll just take you though my last 36 hours.

We wake up on Wednesday morning to an offer on our place. We sign and are under contract. That was the big trigger with the move to Champaign. My wife has been training and shadowing in St. Louis for a bit before making the transition to Champaign, so it allowed us to take our time, fix up the place, put it on the market, and get it under contract.

With that step complete, the next step is zeroing in on where we're going to live in Champaign. We looked in January and we looked in February and now we have our timeframe so she looked yesterday while in town for a work thing and I looked again today. But I didn't plan that until this morning.

Why? Because my plan was to be in Indianapolis today. I was deciding between heading there Friday morning or heading there this morning, and once it was announced that the games would be played in front of only media and families (I got my press pass for the event back in February), then the one journalism hair I have on my neck stood up and said "you need to be there writing about this, whatever it looks like". So I planned to go this morning.

Mind you, this is all happening as news continues to break throughout the day. I drove a couple hours on Wednesday morning to record a cable access show with Bruce Dickey, a taping which would air today. We talked the Big Ten Tournament, we talked NCAA Tournament, and by the time I got back to my phone around 2:00, the whole world started changing. My lasting memory of this whole thing will be that on March 11th I recorded a TV show on Wednesday early afternoon talking about the upcoming tournaments (conference and NCAA) and by the time it aired on Thursday, everything had moved to "will be played in front of no crowds" and then "canceled".

I drove back to St. Louis, ran a few errands, and around 6:00 tweeted how I was kind of stunned that I was holding this press pass to a tournament that would only allow maybe 175 people in the building. Whatever was going to happen, I needed to be there to write about it, even if it's just a bunch of COVID-19 posts. So I planned to go this morning (instead of Friday when the Illini were set to play).

Then... I'm still not sure what happened. I tweeted at 5:59 about going to Indy on Thursday morning and there wasn't a single "maybe rethink that" response. At 9:55, when the "Fred Hoiberg left the bench sick" news came out, I asked if I should even go and was beaten with a blunt STAY HOME object. Those had to be the fastest four hours in human history. What no one even mentioned at 5:59 was now "my God how could you consider that?" at 9:55.

I decided to stay home and evaluate things today. Perhaps I would still go Friday if they were playing in front of no crowds and the media experience for those covering Thursday was seen as being in the public interest. But if not, my whole "go to Indy and write 18 posts" idea was shot.

The new plan for today: go to Champaign and look at some places to live that my wife had already seen. The clock is ticking now, so we need a final decision in the next few days, and a canceled trip to Indy was the best time to do it.

As I was traveling today, everything else unfolded. No NCAA Tournament. No college sports until August at the earliest. It was so ironic to me - there I am, in Champaign, looking at places to live so I can start this full-time Illini writing thing... and there won't be a single thing to write about before August. Even recruiting visits are canceled.

I get it, and I was up until 2:30 am reading about the virus, what the CDC recommends, and how the next few months might play out. Given all that I read, especially the "you can't overwhelm the healthcare system to the point where some nurse somewhere has to choose which elderly patient gets the last oxygen tank and which elderly patient dies" stuff, I think I now understand the "why" behind all of this. This isn't a "this is stupid give me sports" post either.

This is a "today is so incredibly heartbreaking for Ayo and Andres and Kipper" post. Ayo starts a hashtag last March to say that he has #UnfinishedBusiness in Champaign and is putting off his NBA declaration for a year, and then he goes out and delivers on that promise - something that will be talked about in Illini-land for decades - and now he doesn't get to live it out. I wanted to go to Indy and write about Feliz and then I wanted to go to Omaha (or wherever) and write about Ayo hitting one more dagger to send 7 Illinois to the Sweet Sixteen over 2 Kentucky and now it will never happen.

And it's not just basketball. No more saves for Garrett Acton. No more doubles for Maddy Adams. No more birdies for Giovanni Tadiotto. This pandemic took away a lot of one-last-ride senior seasons. Again, after my research last night I understand the why behind all of this. But the who is still really painful.

And it leaves me with... nothing to write about? After two delays, we had finally planned to launch the site upgrades on Monday (and the new subscription structure). I don't think we can do that now. "Hey, pay me to write about... the 1978 golf team" just doesn't make much sense. We'll regroup and hold a meeting and figure everything out. Right now, it's business unfinished.

(I guess this is a Poor Me post.)

I don't think I have any other thoughts in my head besides the insanity of today. The entire day I'm questioning whether I should even be driving to Champaign and looking at houses. "I'm not around big crowds, but I'm still interacting face-to-face with people and I could have stayed home". Except we still need to finalize where we're going to live. But should I try to do that online?

There's really nothing to close with here. My brain still hasn't caught up to everything that's happened in the last 36 hours. I tell you I'm making sports my livelihood on February 17th and by March 12th there's no more sports. We finally make the NCAA Tournament and then there's no NCAA Tournament. Ayo comes back for unfinished business and now he can't finish his business.

Stay safe, everyone. Wash your hands. See you in a few days to talk about... music?


uilaw71 on March 13, 2020 @ 08:11 AM

Want to keep your loyal readers actively involved until August? Have you noticed that it’s a presidential election year?

Bear8287 on March 13, 2020 @ 07:48 PM

Oh I hope that you are joking and please don't. If you want that, you can go practically anywhere on the internet.

How nice to have at least one bastion that doesn't have to delve into politics. Here we're all just Illini fans with that common bond. Isn't that enough?

No bowl, no tourney on March 13, 2020 @ 08:58 AM

Our current players, coaches and recruiters have done a great job to turn the sinking Illini ship around and get us out of stormy waters. They may not get their tourney chance this year, but the future is so much brighter for both of the big programs. That is not nothing. Hopefully you'll have plenty to write about come next football season prep and beyond. This seems like a a great time to move to Champaign with optimism abound. Can you imagine if this opportunity came like four years ago? Yuck.

Gary48 on March 13, 2020 @ 11:18 AM

I will look forward to your thoughts on Illini preparations for sports to continue. Thank you, Robert, for helping us feel more connected with Illini sports.

skibdaddy on March 13, 2020 @ 03:56 PM

This is a perfect time for you Robert... Your best writing is on the Illini people... not on the games. Of course, be safe and find a home, but here's a few ideas:

-Come up with some awesome people stories from Illini athletes we don't know...

-Give us an update on Bobby Roundtree

-Give us a season review of all our basketball players, with a highlight tape

-A day in the life of Andres Feliz, etc.

Many of us are stuck at home with nothing else to do besides read up on our favorite team... When life gives you lemons...

Bear8287 on March 13, 2020 @ 08:07 PM

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ktal on March 13, 2020 @ 09:39 PM

Great idea. Maybe even take it a step further and pick a handfull of current student athletes from across sports to follow through their individual efforts to continuosly improve their performance, without the teams or 'athlete universe' that provides such a huge percentage of their support structure.

Having Robert still writing about how Illini Nation navigates this unfortunate crisis should provide an endless flow of stories perhaps more meaningful than the games themselves. Robert can keep the athletes and fans connected in the shared experience of this unprecedented adjustment. Let this be Illini Nation's finest hour.

IBFan on March 14, 2020 @ 04:15 PM

Always can talk about who you would like to see join this upcoming class of Lovie’s. Mock selection Sunday? Mock tournament in some form? Of course as mentioned above the best stories are the ones that involve Robert or athletes, coaches that no one else gives. All will be ok for most of you and the Illini programs and this unfortunate twist will come to and end. Pray for those over 50, those with existing conditions, and their family members. There are plenty of Robert’s followers that fall into that camp and just hope to see the next season.

Tolkien73 on March 14, 2020 @ 07:00 PM

Post Idea:

Unappreciated Illini players (regardless of sport) over your lifetime. Who never got the credit they were due? Could be any reason. Good player on a mediocre team. Second fiddle behind an all-star. Favorite whipping boy of the fans (deserved or not).

And don't panic, Robert. Illini Nation has your back.

ClassOfDeeDeronJames on March 14, 2020 @ 10:07 PM

Robert - I finally made an account after many years of lightly browsing to say, we are here to support you. I will sign up for whatever your new pay model is. We need to support independent entrepreneurs now more than ever.

You can make a post per day for the rest of the year revisiting your LLUOI posts from over the years. Did your initial thoughts come true? Why or why not? Where is that player today? (still here, in the pros, selling shoes)

We're here for you and the passion you bring to Illini sports. Welcome back to Champaign. Now give me that link so I can help keep your dream alive.

IlliNYC on March 15, 2020 @ 12:14 PM

I read that the NCAA had been considering a 16 team tournament and, honestly now I'm just glad they cancelled. It would just hurt more to "miss" this tournament and have to look back on missed opportunities like Miami, MD, MSU as the reason we were not in the final 16...

This is the season that brought the Illini back, and I'm not going to look back on this season as anything but a success.

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