What more do they want?

By Mike Szwaja

Sociology 249. What a class. For three days a week, we sit around and talk about sports for an hour. The social implications of sports. Why we love sports so much. Why sports impact some of our everyday lives so heavily. And so on.

There I sat Wednesday morning, surrounded by my fellow students in the Animal Sciences Laboratory room 150 engaged in a conversation about “The Flutie Effect” – a theory developed on the thought that a successful athletic program could boost university enrollment as evidenced by Doug Flutie and the 1984 Boston College Eagles.

Soon, discussions of “The Flutie Effect” vanished as quick as Flutie’s first stint in the NFL. Several of my comrades had taken the discussion in a different direction. We were now using our class time to complain about the lack of major media respect for our No. 1 basketball team. Yes, that’s right, our No. 1 basketball team!

“ESPN is headquartered in Connecticut, and their East Coast bias shows through heavily,” one student spewed.

“Dickie V. is in love with Duke.”

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“Yeah, look at all their analysts. They’re all from the ACC,” another one followed.

Funny, last time I checked: Doug Gottlieb dished out a record number of assists at Oklahoma State. Digger Phelps led Notre Dame during his glory days as a coach. Rick Majerus had his shining moments as a coach at Utah. Steve Lavin was the head guy at UCLA. And … Jay Bilas played at Duke – the only ACC school of the bunch.

A little while later…

“I think ESPN and other media outlets are just waiting for us to lose.”

Well, that’s true. When the No. 1 team loses, that’s big news. ESPN and every other sports outlet loves it when stuff like that happens. Doesn’t matter if it’s Illinois, Duke, North Carolina or anyone else.

“Kansas. … Duke. … North Carolina. … Illinois doesn’t have the sex appeal of those schools when it comes to being No. 1. That’s why we don’t get the respect,” a voice said from the back of the room.

This went on for nearly a half hour before Dr. Damion Thomas took control of his classroom and made the point of the hour. He politely suggested that heading into this week, both Duke and Kansas, two of the top-five most storied basketball schools, were also undefeated, yet they sat behind Illinois in the polls. In fact, only Austin Bishop – not Vitale – of the 17,000 circulation Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss. had the Illini ranked below No. 1 in the AP poll heading into this week.

What more did they want?

Prior to the big victory over Wisconsin, Vitale – Mr. Everything ACC in the minds of countless orange and blue fans – said he would be surprised to see the Illini fall to the Badgers.

On Wednesday evening’s SportsCenter, Vitale named the Illini as the clear-cut No. 1 team. Then, quite fittingly I might add, Vitale couldn’t stop talking about the Illini during Duke’s first lost to Maryland on Wednesday night.

What more do they want?

The pollsters have had the Illini No. 1 for almost eight weeks now, which is the longest streak for a No. 1 team since Arizona in 2002.

The aforementioned Gottlieb led an Illini love-fest before and during ESPN’s telecast of the Wisconsin game. Bilas has stood by his opinion that Assembly Hall is one of the top few toughest places to play in the country ever since the Illini drubbing of Wake Forest.

Grant Wahl, talented cnnsi.com writer, recently wrote a hysterical column about Nick “Chainsaw” Smith.

What more do they want?

I’m not sure. Maybe they want Vitale and the rest of the ESPNers to make it real easy and anoint the Illini as the national champions right now, thus putting all the pressure in the world on the boys in orange.

Yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly what they want.

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].