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My sleep schedule is toast. Wednesday night I probably slept 10 hours, the old "body reaches emotional and physical capacity and forces a reboot" kind of sleep. That meant that last night was 5 hours and now wide awake at 3:55 am. Which means that tonight I'll probably fall asleep at 8:15.
I'll start here with a big thank-you to everyone who has reached out the last week. Especially those friends who know my wife and have reached out to her. She's lost her mother, brother, and now father in less than three years time, something no human should ever have to endure. Her perspective continues to amaze me - she's devastated, obviously, but she clings to the last page of his last chapter: he returns home from seeing his grandson get married and, 36 hours later, while walking to get the mail, lays down on his back in the grass because he's feeling weak, puts his hand behind his head like he was taking a nap in his grandfather's hay barn as a child, and, to quote an aviation poem for this aviation man - slipped the surly bonds of earth.
After a long layoff like this, it's difficult for me to get back in the writing frame of mind. Partly because after a funeral, writing about sports seems so insignificant, and partly because there's not much going on. If I'm going to pick a two-week timeframe to not write about the Illini, this wasn't a bad two weeks to miss. It would have just been "so once again, for the 13th day in a row, the rumors about the Big Ten deciding to reverse course and play this fall are false - tune in tomorrow".
So I guess I'll just start writing a Slapdash post. Football thoughts and then basketball thoughts:
+ I've said before that I don't really watch much college football outside of the Illini. I'll watch college football in relation to the Illini - "I want to watch Penn State/Ohio State tonight to see if Illinois has any chance in two weeks" - but everyone is always surprised at my answer when they ask me if I watched LSU-Texas A&M last night. It's very often a "no". If I was watching college football, I was probably re-watching the Illini game.
So I'm not sure how this fall will go. I miss football, but I had zero desire to watch Miami-UAB last night. If I see a game on TV this weekend I think I'll just get depressed, so I'll likely avoid it. I could maybe see a scenario where I get swept up in the return of football and gradually watch more and more games, but I doubt it. If I need football this fall I'll likely just watch some NFL games.
I guess this isn't surprising to most of you. I've been over this before. Yes, I'm a "football guy", but I'm an Illini football guy, not a college football guy. It's all allegiance. I don't care about Miami-UAB because I have no skin in the game (besides wanting Miami to lose because Manny Diaz retweeted that "raccoon stealing food" meme after they flipped Jeff Thomas back and now I want to see Diaz fail forever). I care about college football as it relates to Illini football and that's it.
+ It's been nearly a month and I'm still reeling from the eligibility extensions for fall athletes. I should probably do a mailbag post for that to get my writing juices flowing again. There are so many different ways to discuss it.
For example... with 24 seniors who could all return again in 2021, are we done recruiting in the 2021 class? The class was headed for 25-28 with transfers - does it now stop at a hard 16?
Here's why I ask: two years ago we had seven scholarship seniors. Had Covid come along at that time (and had the NCAA extended eligibility for all athletes), then those seven (AJ Bush, Nick Allegretti, DelShawn Phillips et al) would have returned in 2019 for a second senior season. That would have meant that the 2019 roster would have had 92 players during the one year where the NCAA lifted the cap. The following post-Covid season (which would be 2020 in this scenario) would have needed to drop back to 85 scholarship players. That wouldn't have caused much of a disturbance scholarship-wise.
Now, with 24 seniors theoretically returning for 2021 and 16 verbals, we're already around 100 scholarship players (if we don't add a single transfer next season and don't add any more freshmen). Say the final number is 99 scholarship players with 18 seniors. That means the 2022 class can be... 4 players.
WAIT. I'm going to do that thing where I talk myself out of something I've already written instead of going back and editing it. The other scenario above would have been the same. There would have been 92 scholarships but only 7 seniors. So that team would be in the same boat (no room for a recruiting class). The second-time-around seniors would graduate, there would be two recruiting classes "arriving" (one had already been there for a year but returned as true freshmen), and everyone would look around and wonder how all these people would fit at a table with only 85 chairs.
The point: as of now, the way I read the new rules, the NCAA is asking for this:
2018: split up 85 scholarships among 5 recruiting classes (redshirt seniors through true freshmen)
2019: split up 85 scholarships among 5 recruiting classes
2020: split up 85 scholarships among 5 recruiting classes
2021: split up unlimited scholarships among 6 recruiting classes
2022: split up 85 scholarships among 6 recruiting classes
There's just no way they don't change something. It's going to be Creanageddon.
+ The season, uh, isn't far off? That hit me last week. No one really knows when the season will start - the best clue we have so far is that CBS Sports reported that the committee has put forward November 25th as the proposed start date - but the original start date (November 10th) is now less than two months away. It could get pushed back to January, it could be some weird "once all students leave there's a big college basketball bubble around the holidays" - nobody really knows. But if that date is to be believed (November 25th), that's coming up fairly quickly? That's now (does the math) only 50 (edit: and by 50 I obviously meant 75) days away?
I feel like I should sound some kind of alarm. "Hey, everyone, college basketball might be 75 days away". Maybe it's just me and maybe I've been too focused on when Big Ten football might begin but as of today, 75 days. Will I actually have something to write about in only 75 days?
+ I'm curious about the magnitude of the season. Maybe that's the wrong word. I'll say it this way: I'm not paying attention to professional sports right now. I wonder if the same will be true of college basketball this winter?
For starters, I'm not the best example here. My transition from St. Louis Rams season ticket holder to "the football team in Pittsburgh - is it the Steelers or the Pirates?" is nearly complete. As each year passes, I know less and less about all professional sports. I only watch to see how the Illini players are doing.
This year - this crazy year - is the worst one yet. I know that the NHL playoffs are going on but I have no idea who is still alive (besides Tampa Bay because I saw some article about how they'd be going head-to-head against Tom Brady for TV viewers). I know who is still alive in the NBA (mostly because I check in to see how the Miami Illini are doing), but I haven't watched a single moment of the NBA playoffs.
That's a little different from my typical "what are professional sports?" weirdness. I'm usually at least aware. But this year, with playoffs happening in September (in empty arenas and ballrooms), it just doesn't feel like the playoffs are happening. I'd say I still follow other sports the same (I'll flip through my phone to find out who is in the quarterfinals of the US Open, for example), but for MLB/NBA/NHL, I've never paid less attention. It just doesn't feel like a "season".
So now I'm wondering if college basketball will be the same. My brain is constantly searching for "that's SO ILLINOIS" so it's easy to land on "we make the Final Four again but nobody is really paying attention". I don't think I'd care - with Covid taking away any and all routine, I'd probably be more invested in a Final Four run than any other year - but I do have this "when the Illini finally win the national championship I want to be there to see 70,000 of the 75,000 fans decked out in orange" thing. I really, really hope crowds return by the time the NCAA Tournament arrives (they won't). I need to see people going insane when Ayo hits The Shot. You know, the one we'll all talk about for decades.
I guess I've gotten ahead of myself. All I want right now is an NCAA basketball season. This football season, if it absolutely has to, could wait until next fall. This basketball season has. to. happen. So I don't care if it's played in an actual bubble with no fans or media and one stationary camera above the court - we have to have a season.
OK, yes, I care a little bit about the media being there.