This must be why professors take sabbaticals.
The last seven months for me have been the most disconnected I've been to Illini sports. Which is weird, seeing as I could walk to Memorial Stadium now. But major life transitions - like, say, quitting your job and moving to another state to change careers - brings major emotional upheaval. You just don't feel like yourself for a while. Especially when the career you're pursuing gets shut down by a global pandemic.
This morning, with the news that the Big Ten will return to play starting October 24th, I feel like I just woke up from a perfect, uninterrupted, 8.5 hour deep sleep. My mind is so completely alive. I feel like Donny Navarro in that photo above when he slipped between the two Wisconsin defenders and saw nothing but green turf ahead. The past 30 days? A wedding, a funeral, and the least I've written about Illinois sports in the last 12 years. The next 30 days? The most.
I mean, later today the D-I Council will vote on the return date for college basketball. According to Matt Norlander, it will either stay the same (November 10th) or move to November 21st or 25th (and not January 1 as had been discussed). So we might get the start date for Illini football (October 24th) and Illini basketball (November 21st was put forward by the oversight committee) announced the same day. Is it Christmas?
My brain is spinning. Seven months of nothing and now everything. When this happens I just have to make a list of the thoughts coming into my head.
+ I'm still stuck on what I wrote on Sunday - that we're actually getting an actual Big Ten season. Not a spring season that doesn't feel like football - fall Saturdays. They won't be normal, and there likely won't be fans, but there will be Big Ten football on television.
When I combine that thought with the eligibility waiver (the NCAA has said this season won't "count" and if you were a redshirt sophomore this fall you return in the fall of 2021 as a redshirt sophomore), and this is truly a dream scenario as far as this roster is concerned. Quick reminder of the scholarship seniors the last four years:
So if this is the team we've been building towards, we get two seasons of that team. All 24 seniors would be eligible to return for 2021 to do it all over again.
I'll put it this way: Ron Turner's fifth season was an out-of-nowhere Big Ten title. Imagine if there had been a waiver that year and everyone from Kurt Kittner to Luke Butkus to Brandon Moore to Bobby Jackson was allowed to return in 2002. That would certainly have been a bowl season, and maybe that helps the program avoid the 2003 cliff that it fell from.
Now, this cuts both ways. If this 2020 season is a failure - last year's bowl team becomes this year's 1-8 with a December 19th 7 vs. 7 matchup with Rutgers - then given the current climate, we'll likely have to see that same team struggle in 2021 before a coaching change is made. We either get "the rebuild worked!" extended for an additional season or "the rebuild failed!" extended (with its friend "lack of recruiting"). This is not "hurray, we're saved!". It could be the biggest "we're Illinois football and we can't be trusted" of all time.
But as discussed in other posts over the last month, when you're top-10 in returning production and staring at a scenario where you're likely bottom-10 the following season, it's nice to have until 2022 to sort it all out, not 2021. A ledge halfway down the cliff isn't the worst thing.
+ It's also very big that these three waivers were approved (WR Brian Hightower, a transfer from Miami, WR Khmari Thompson, a transfer from Missouri, and OL Brevyn Jones, a transfer from Mississippi State, all have announced on Twitter that they received waiver approvals). The way I'm doing the math, they would have all sat out this season (a season that doesn't "count", remember) and not gained the benefit of playing during a season that doesn't affect their eligibility. Hightower had two more seasons to play football - now he plays three.
And doing the math with Jones is a bit mind blowing. He redshirted one season at Mississippi State and then transferred after their offseason coaching change. So he would have sat out 2020 as a transfer (the second season of his 5-to-play-4) and would have returned in 2021 as a 3-to-play-3 player. Now? Somehow he's 5-to-play-5. He can play this fall, it doesn't count, and then he can play 2021 through 2024.
I'm not sure if any of them will play this fall (this fall!). We do need WR depth and with Jake Cerny gone someone has to be the sixth offensive lineman, so they might. But it's so good for them that they got waivers. All three now get the benefit of a season that doesn't "count".
+ One more time, since I've only harped on this four times. That NCAA eligibility waiver continues to blow my mind. Even time I write about it I have all of these "there's no WAY I'm interpreting this correctly" but then I go back and read the release and I think I am. The whole point, across all levels (Division II, Division III) was to tell fall athletes that whatever kind of season they had, it wouldn't count. Play 12 games, play 0 games - none of it counts.
Which means there's a scenario like this for incoming Illini freshmen (let's use Reggie Love here).
- He plays in all nine games this fall (eight Big Ten games and then the championship week "1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2" matchups).
- He returns in 2021 as a true freshman since the 2020 season didn't really happen. He's used sparingly (like Isaiah Williams was in 2019) and only plays in four select games. That means he uses his redshirt year.
- He then returns in the fall of 2022 as a... redshirt freshman. He plays 12 games in 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025.
- That means, with bowl games, he could play in 66 college football games. WHAT??
Which makes me think "come on, there's no way the NCAA would allow that - they'd probably take away the whole 'play four games or less and you can redshirt' thing". But then I go back to the press release and it says nothing about that. Just that 2020 doesn't count towards your 5 or your 4. Crazy.
+ This continues to come over me like a wave. Do you know how busy November and December might be? Think about this:
Illinois football starts October 24th. As long as there are no cancellations (and the possibility of that is still high), there will be nine games in nine weeks. Eight consecutive weekends of games plus a December 19th scenario where 1 plays 1 in the Big Ten title game while 2 plays 2, 3 plays 3, and so on. Nine straight weekends.
But if this basketball plan is approved today, Ayo and Kofi are playing as well. Here's what was laid out in Matt Norlander's article on it all:
The two-hour meeting focused in large part around upping the start date to accommodate multi-team events (MTEs), which had been a driving force the past week-plus for reconsidering Nov. 25, a date oversight committees agreed to during their Sept. 1 meeting.
Nov. 23 had also been pushed by some recently, according to numerous sources, as it's the most populated date on the calendar wherein MTEs are scheduled to tip off. One source indicated that Nov. 21 added a couple more MTEs to the pile. On Friday it was put into the oversight committees' proposal package to the Division I Council, which is the governing body that will meet Sept. 16 and ultimately decide whether to accept multiple recommendations surrounding the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season.
The committees also agreed on Friday to reduce the maximum allowable regular-season games for this season. It's normally 31, but now it will be targeted at 28 if a team plays in an MTE, or 26 if it does not. The minimum allowable number of games for postseason consideration is targeted for 13, a number NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt lobbed out as a possibility Thursday on the "Courtside with Dakich and Greenberg" podcast. The stipulation for 13 games, according to one source, is all 13 games must be against Division I competition.
The committees also will make a recommendation -- but not an outright requirement -- that teams play at least four nonconference games if circumstances reasonably allow for it. This was not a universally agreed to recommendation, but will be part of the proposal nonetheless. The thinking behind this is to encourage every league to seek to play nonconference games in an effort to help with college basketball's metrics and eventual NCAA Tournament selection. A separate source added that powerful programs have been consistently lobbying behind the scenes to allow for as many nonconference games as possible in an effort to normalize the regular season and also provide small schools a chance for more games in an unpredictable schedule climate.
So say the Emerald Coast Classic is still held (Illinois, Iowa State, Florida, and Oregon, was scheduled for November 27-29). Or maybe Illinois joins a different MTE in a different bubble. From Thanksgiving to Christmas you might see something like this:
- Saturday before Thanksgiving (11/21), Illini football game.
- Sunday the 22nd, Illini basketball opens the season with a home non-conference game.
- Friday the 27th, Ayo & Kofi play Florida in the Emerald Coast Classic.
- Saturday the 28th it's Illinois football taking on (whoever).
- Sunday the 29th, Illinois-Oregon in the ECC.
- Then the month of December is maybe two Illini basketball games + one Illini football game every week. Basketball games maybe Monday and Thursday, football game on Saturday?
- That leads up to December 19th where you could see Illinois football playing Indiana in the 4 vs. 4 game plus Illinois basketball maybe playing Missouri in an empty Braggin' Rights arena.
- And then straight into basketball conference season.
This is somewhat typical for November. 2-3 weeks where there's games for both football and basketball. But it's never happened for all of December. If the committee votes today to keep the basketball season starting on November 10th, that's nearly six full weeks of basketball + football.
I really need to quit my job and move to Champaign.