Friday, March 18, 2011

EXTRA: “Aw, nuts!”

I'm now rooting to be "Number 3." Graphic provided by Illinois Wesleyan University.

World War II-era General Tony McAuliffe expressed my sentiments exactly as I watched the Illinois Wesleyan University Titans’ women’s basketball team get beat Friday 87-77 by St. Louis-based Washington University.

I know, I know. The University of Illinois men’s basketball program is our state’s lone representative in the Division I NCAA tourney, taking on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas at a game being played Friday in Tulsa, Okla.

HERE IN CHICAGO, the Division I tourney staged a few games at the United Center – with Notre Dame managing to win their Friday game by a 69-56 score over the University of Akron and Purdue University whomping on St. Peter’s 65-43.

But for my college basketball fix, I was following the Titans (who back when I was a student in Bloomington, Ill., still referred to their women’s athletic teams as the “Lady Titans”), using what turned out to be a very reliable internet connection to watch the game at

It’s my alma mater (I don't "get" people who follow college sports without a personal connection, unless they're degenerate gamblers), and I felt the curiosity to see if Illinois Wesleyan could pull off a national title, albeit one at the Division III level. It certainly wasn’t going to happen by the men’s program, who qualified for the men’s tourney and managed to win one game, before being knocked out of play a couple of weeks ago.

This is the element that catches my attention the most. The Division I tourney (the alleged “March Madness,” even though anyone with sense knows that phrase originated with high school basketball in Illinois) is just now beginning, and will drag out into the early days of April, because of officials who want to milk it for all the television money they can get.

THERE IS NO such money at the Division III level, although some of the programs at that level are as competitive and fierce-spirited as anything one sees at Division I – particularly the lesser programs at that level. No one is going to convince me that the basketball at a place like Eastern Illinois or Chicago State universities is any more interesting than the elite Division III programs.

The end result is that, not only did I watch my game Friday night on my laptop computer, that tourney is on the verge of being over. Illinois Wesleyan made it to the Final Four – and Washington’s victory puts them in line to defend their national title from 2010 when they play Amhurst University.

And as for the Titans? I’m not sure if I have the temperament to watch Saturday’s consolation game against Christopher Newport without swearing at my computer screen.

Perhaps I’ll watch something lower-key and less significant. Perhaps Morehead State versus Richmond?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Someone far more knowledgeable than I offers a decent explanation of the difference between college basketball at the Division I and Division III levels – aside from the school enrollments.

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