On Tuesday athletic director Mike Thomas appeared on 670 The Score in Chicago, and since it was a radio station in Chicago, obviously the conversation centered on Chicago. That's just how Chicago works. You can't be in Chicago without telling Chicago why Chicago is just the greatest, and why you'll never be anything without Chicago.
Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.
So of course Thomas was asked about the "gap" between Illinois athletics and sports fans in Chicago.
"I think to a certain extent that is a fair statement and we've got to do better," Thomas answered. "I said the minute I walked in the door, ‘We need to be the king of Chicago.' I really should have said that we need to be the king of the state. Chicago's obviously within the borders of the State of Illinois. We came out with the theme ‘Our State. Our Team.' But we've got to do more in Chicago."
And as I've said here before, the best way -- and probably the only real way -- to get Chicago sports fans that aren't affiliated with the school to start paying attention to Illinois sports is to win. It's that simple. And Thomas understands that.
"You really have to win with your programs to get (Chicago fans) to come to Champaign," Thomas said. "Because I know they make a real commitment, a two to three hour drive to come down here each way. It's very convenient for them to not want to do that when you're not putting a successful product on the field or court."
Now, that's not to say that there aren't other things that the school can't do to help, and the school is obviously doing that. The advertising is a nice way to start, but a better move is playing games in Chicago. Our basketball team will be playing Auburn at the United Center in about two weeks, but that's an annual thing. What's nice to see is that the Illini will be playing Washington at Soldier Field next season.
There is no reason why Northern Illinois just announced its third game at Soldier Field earlier this week and we haven't played our first yet. Not only is that good for exposing the program to fans, but Chicago recruits as well.
At the end of the day, however, it will all come down to winning. If we can get some of those wins within the borders of Chicago, that helps too.