An ugly foul out for fans in Assembly Hall

A gloomy basketball season grew even darker Thursday night when Indiana University played the Illini in Assembly Hall. A game that was tinged with border-state rivalry to begin with got ugly as fans berated lost recruit Eric Gordon and his family.

Though the Illini lost in a double-overtime thriller, the story of the night was the terrible behavior displayed by fans both independent and affiliated with Orange Krush toward a single player in a nationally televised game.

It was ugly. It was vulgar. And it arguably did more damage to this institution’s reputation than any loss of a recruit.

Even more troubling was Coach Bruce Weber’s postgame admission to Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, that “We couldn’t ask for more from the crowd. … They were tremendous.” Tacitly condoning throwing beads, ice, incredibly offensive profanities and engaging in a level of hostility not seen in recent memory is not the kind of standard we want to set.

Friday, after being dragged through the mud by ESPN, columnists and sports fans across America, Weber and Athletic Director Ron Guenther waited until late afternoon to issue an apology to both teams for the actions of the fans in attendance Thursday.

But trying to bury the story into the weekend instead of immediately taking a stand not only gave talking heads an opening to lambast this school, it raised the valid question of whether there would have been any apology – and a 180-degree reversal on Weber’s part – at all if fewer people were paying attention.

We can do better.

Taking out our frustrations of a disappointing basketball season on a single recruit doesn’t make this school any better. And since we lost, it certainly didn’t make the team play better either.

The job of the fans is to get involved either by cheering the Illini or yes, even booing the other team. But above all, it should be in support of our players, our school and our honor. The actions of too many in Assembly Hall on Thursday night did not get that job done.

It’s unlikely that Champaign will ever host Eric Gordon again. And no matter what he or IU coach Kelvin Sampson did in the past, it’s time to move on. They are not solely to blame for our team’s troubles this season.

The best thing the Illini nation can do is to close the book on this unfortunate situation, look toward a future in which we can return to contention with the elites of college basketball and repair our reputation as one of the country’s great universities.

True Illini fans would not settle for anything less.

At issue:

Unfortunate debacle at Indiana game undermines our school’s honor and reputation.