Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bring back the Maroons! It makes more sense than having SIU in Big Ten

Every year in the Illinois General Assembly manages to bring about a bill or two that gets a lot of attention just because the idea being espoused is so knuckleheaded and absurd that we know it’s going nowhere.

Not a ringing endorsement for Ill. flagship
This year, it seems the nonsense bill in question is one based upon the idea that Illinois needs to improve its educational opportunities for students by getting another of its public universities into the Big Ten.

AS IF WE don’t suffer enough by seeing Fighting Illini and Wildcats sports teams get their behinds kicked by Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana, state representatives Michael Connelly, R-Lisle, and Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, somehow think that having the Illinois State Redbirds or the Cougars of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the mix will bolster things.

This is just ridiculous on so many levels. But let’s take the key point that Connelly made in talking to the Chicago Sun-Times about this issue. “”Big Ten,’ to me, means a top state school. There’s a lot of pride in that. The Big Ten has a cachet and a record of higher academic and athletic excellence.”

Now I’m not looking to go on a diatribe against the University of Illinois. I have known many people (including my brother, Chris) who were educated there. It’s a fine place. But that statement from Connelly is just a bunch of hooey!

The reason some people choose to attend universities elsewhere is because they have achieved such standards and reputations that those top students want to challenge themselves (either that, or they have “legacy” connections that get them in).

MURPHY: Placing too much faith...
WE ALL KNOW it’s not 100 percent accurate to recall Tom Cruise’s “Joel” character from “Risky Business” and his reaction to learning he probably wasn’t going to be accepted to Princeton. But the Urbana-Champaign campus doesn’t really get bonus points academically because it’s in the Big Ten conference.

And the Big Ten sure doesn’t get much respect athletically when compared to the other major conferences that comprise the world of NCAA Division I sports.

Somehow, I suspect some alum of an SEC school is laughing his behind off at the thought of the Big Ten being elite. Then again, some of those alums may not be literate enough to read this commentary, so who knows how they will react. And as for the Ivy League types, their snootiness lets me easily disregard them.

CONNELLY: ... in Big Ten label?
I just think that some people are equating an athletic conference with way too much significance. And in the case of the Big Ten, it doesn’t help that their latest expansion efforts have been to get into the big media markets. That is, if you think of Rutgers as New York-area and Maryland as Washington, D.C.

THE ONLY WAY I could see the Big Ten wanting a third Illinois-based academic institution is if it would put them in Chicago proper (Northwestern University is, after all, based in suburban Evanston). I just can’t see them caring about Normal, Ill., or suburban St. Louis (as in Edwardsville). And don’t even bring up the main campus in Carbondale – a place so isolated physically it makes Champaign seem cosmopolitan.

Besides, what does any of this have to do with academics? Connelly and Murphy say their concern is that University of Illinois standards have become too high and many students get rejected.

How about working on ways to bolster the level of the other state-funded public universities? Which has nothing to do with the Big Ten label.

There’s also the fact that Connelly and Murphy think that students rejected by Illinois are going to other states, and not coming back. Yet how often do we hear about University of Michigan (or other Midwestern university) alumni who beehive it straight for Chicago once they graduate?

SO WHAT COULD this all mean? Probably nothing. The bill that already has made it through a state Senate committee calls for a commission to spend a year studying the issue – if it even gets approved. Nobody is bound to do anything.

Which means we’re not likely to ever see anything actually happen with this. Not even a return of the one Chicago university that actually has a Big Ten history.

The Stagg Field of old (and its Big Ten memories) are long gone from Hyde Park neighborhood campus. Illustration provided by Chuckman Chicago Nostalgia.
Restore the Chicago Maroons to the athletic conference for the first time since the late 1930s? I doubt it, largely because university officials themselves would see the Big Ten as a hindrance to their academic mission!


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