There's some debate about Illinois' stature as a program upthread. Let me tell you what guys on the radio like to say down here in Saint Louis, and Illinois dudes, respond if you would.
Bernie Miklasz and Michelle Smallman (UIUC alumna) have been talking about Weber and that job all week. Illinois has some footprint here, about 10K alumni in the metro I think I read in the paper once. I was flabbergasted when I got here to find that, if you go into a random bar on Saturday in the fall, and there's one TV over the bar, it's as likely to be tuned to a Big Ten game as it is a Big XII game (not involving Mizzou). The Metro-East weighs in at about 700K people. At the very least, I think it's accurate to say we're in a border region between the footprints of the two conferences. (It'll be interesting to see how things change when Mizzou goes to the SEC). But still, there are way more Mizzou people here. The radio honks talk about Mizzou quite a bit, but have rarely discussed other schools in the Big XII, except with regard to the ongoing story about the potential collapse of the conference. I sort of think Mizzou's relationship to the SEC will be similar, like in a Neptune orbit. I have trouble believing Miklasz or Farr or Duncan or the other sports radio personalities will be talking excitedly about the Cocktail Party the Monday morning after. They'll be talking about what's wrong with the Rams, what's right with the Blues, or who the Cardinals are going to sign in free agency. Oh yeah and Mizzou played Vandy too.
Missouri and Illinois have a notional rivalry, but it's pretty weak sauce intensity-wise. Mizzou has dominated in football, but the football series is intermittent and there are no games scheduled currently AIUI. Even the name for the football series is contrived, the State Farm Arch Rivalry. Haha, "arch," that's so funny I just peed myself. Not. The basketball series seems more organic and serious, played more-or-less yearly, (there was a one-year break) with Illinois dominating, 20-11, though Mizzou has finally come around to win three straight. Mizzou people care a zillion times more about Kansas, and I assume Illinois folks are more into their Big Ten rivals.
So I'm not really a Mizzou fan and I didn't grow up here, but I've gathered the book on Illinois around here, perception-wise, is as follows. In both football and basketball, it's a good job, but it's not as good as you might think because the demographics are deceptive. What people down here like to say, but I've heard Miklasz say it the most, is that Illinois is really three states, Chicago-Rockford, Southern Illinois, and then a Central Illinois the boundaries of which are debated, but I-80 and I-70 are tossed around a lot. Southern Illinois had a history of Confederate sympathy, and people there have an abiding antipathy towards Springfield, where they feel their concerns are ignored, and towards Chicago, which is viewed as a big nasty corrupt city. And once you get outside the Metro-East, there's only maybe another half million people in Southern Illinois. It's not all that populous. People follow the Cardinals, rather than the Cubs or White Sox.
Chicago presents a different problem, which is that it's a pro sports town and hugely diverse. Sure, there are a lot of Illinois fans there, but so too Notre Dame and a bunch of Big Ten schools. Chicago is the capital of the Midwest. So what I've heard--I don't know how accurate this is--is that Chicago presents Illinois fewer recruiting advantages than the sports public supposes it ought.
So the basic story you hear down here is that, while it's unquestionably the flagship, and the school with the most fans in a state with 12M people, Illinois is sort of the University of Central Illinois when it comes to natural recruiting advantages.
As such, the sports blather guys around here regard Illinois as a good job that sounds great but is only good. Everybody and their dog recruits Chicago HS basketball.
The basketball program is pretty darn good, five final fours, ten sweet sixteens, although no national championships, quite a few Big Ten titles. 1600 and some wins, good for about 13th all-time. It feels like it should be in the next rung below UCLA-UK-KU-Duke-Carolina-Indiana; indeed, the win total is very close to IU and the win percentage is better. But it's probably not as easy to win there as everyone thinks it should be. Football's tougher. The win percentage is about 52%. Three conference championships since 1963. You say, dang, there's 12M people in that state. But it's been a tough conference and it just got tougher with the addition of Nebraska.
Anyone feel free to correct me if I'm off base here.
I should add, UIUC is an incredible research university.
Oh, PS. Ms Smallman says the fan buzz is all about Shaka Smart. Collins' name barely comes up. Us Duke folk have a way of making it all about ourselves.
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