For the LONGEST time, we have heard about how the University of Illinois needs to control the city of Chicago from a recruiting standpoint. Fans and media alike continuously preach about how the Illini need to be able to recruit the city of Chicago well in order to have a successful program. But when we start looking at how the Fighting Illini are trying to push themselves into the mind of the Chicago basketball scene, the horrifying truth is that they’re not...until today.
Before I start spewing opinions and takes, understand that tonight’s game against the DePaul Blue Demons was scheduled thanks to the “Gavitt Tipoff Games” series that was announced in 2015. The series takes place between the Big Ten and Big East conferences and will be played annually until 2022. Interestingly enough, the first two seasons of the games have resulted in 4-4 series ties. Tonight’s game between Illinois and DePaul could see the first win for either conference if DePaul wins.
I’m not here to talk about the Gavitt Games. I’m here to talk about Illinois basketball and why they NEED to start playing in Chicago again. You’re thinking, “Don’t they play at the United Center every season?” They do...but that’s not good enough. The last attendance figure reported at the United Center was 5,151 in 2015, and the contest with BYU last season didn’t draw a whole lot more.
If you want to try and build your brand in Chicago, spend more time there. Teams like Loyola and DePaul draw enough attention from the local media to cause a lot of conversation (what we’ve experienced this week), and Chicago-area alumni would have no problem hosting events that are centered around the team.
I haven’t been this excited for a @DePaulHoops game in a long time! Good for local buckets. #Illini call on @670TheScore @ZachZaidman & I with #BlueDemons call on AM 560. Let’s get it! https://t.co/n5Z3hnNizu— Laurence Holmes (@LaurenceWHolmes) November 17, 2017
Here’s an idea...
Traditionally, the United Center game falls on the weekend before Christmas day. This year, Illinois will play New Mexico State on the 16th at 7:00pm. On Wednesday the 13th, Longwood travels to Champaign to play the Illini at State Farm Center. Instead of facing a team that has played division one hoops for thirteen seasons, schedule a game in Chicago at DePaul/Loyola/UIC on Friday night. Use Saturday as a day to market the team. Make an appearance at Niketown, hold a public practice at a Chicago high school (Simeon, Morgan Park, etc), invite potential recruits to come see the team, get people involved with the “Illinois Basketball” brand. With a MASSIVE footprint in the city of Chicago, the alumni association and I-Fund can use this as a time to host events that benefit programs, the university, and build excitement and awareness towards your program headed into Sunday.
Oh yeah...SCHEDULE THE UNITED CENTER GAME IN THE AFTERNOON. With the holiday season in full swing, people have family functions and parties to attend at night. Schedule the game in the afternoon when people are available to watch basketball for 2 hours, either on a Saturday or Sunday. In the year 2000 when the #5 Illini and #7 Arizona Wildcats squared off in front of 21,885 people, the game tipped off at 11:06am. In order to give your guys some rest from the Friday night game, play the UC game on Sunday afternoon.
Not only does this bring your team into the forefront of Chicago hoops, you give high school recruits an opportunity to witness Illini basketball live without having to travel two hours south to Champaign. DePaul’s new arena is a GREAT place to play, and the orange and blue faithful will undoubtedly show up to see their team play in the third largest city in the country. Loyola wouldn’t be a bad option either (UIC is less than ideal, but is another D1 option). Either way, the university’s division of intercollegiate athletics should consider scheduling more games in the city of Chicago outside of the United Center to draw more attention to local hoops. If you want to be known as the best program in the state of Illinois, go out and prove it. That will also involve an “in-state tournament,” but I’ll get to that later...