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Things I Have A Beef With: Blaming The Fans For Program Ineptitude

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I’m sick of hearing about how every other school apparently has better fans than me.

Illinois Fighting Illini vs Ohio State Buckeyes Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Welcome back to Things I Have A Beef With, in which I will take umbrage at various enemies, real or imagined, of my Fighting Illini fandom.

Today’s topic is something that anyone who’s spent any time on Illini Twitter or on any Illini message board has seen at one point or another: someone blaming the fans for the team being bad. It’s not limited to fans and also extends to the media. However, writers, whether of the blogger variety or the seasoned professional variety, understand that they’re going to take a lot of unwarranted heat for any words written about a bad team for the simple reason that being a fan of a bad team is frustrating.

Still, there exist people who would honestly have you believe that the reason Illinois hasn’t been successful in revenue sports lately is because of the media and also because of things Illini fans post on forums. There’s two schools of thought on this.

1: “We can no longer afford to TOLERATE MEDIOCRITY!”

A game will be rolling along with Illinois losing, as is often the case. Perhaps it’s late in the game and the offense has found a groove and cut the deficit. Perhaps the team’s just physically overmatched when they try to defend but are playing with sound fundamentals. Whatever the case, the Fighting Illini lose. Somewhere online, a fan desperate for a flicker of light deep in the darkness has the audacity to suggest that there were things we did well, or that a young player has a lot of potential, or that the team at least was cohesive and that if a bunch of things go their way, they could build on their strengths.

Along comes a card-carrying member of this tribe to explain that not only is our beleaguered fan wrong, he is actively hurting the future of the program by saying these things. “We can’t just settle for building on a loss like this. What, are you fine with maybe building into a middling team? This is why we don’t win, because PEOPLE LIKE YOU TOLERATE MEDIOCRITY.”

The phrase “tolerate mediocrity” is used very frequently with this set. Their ideology contends that virtually any amount of praise is too much, and that when our coaches, players and administrators read that poor fan’s forum post, they will tell themselves they’re doing well enough and thus won’t do what it takes to improve.

This particular set likes to contemplate when it’s too soon to fire a head coach, though they’re “not saying we should fire the coach, just asking at what point we’re convinced.” They detest Josh Whitman trying to sell people on the payoff from the massive rebuilds the revenue programs are undergoing, and, in particular, they dislike hearing any good news about any sports while the revenue teams are struggling, pointing out that “this is just a distraction so that people forget we went 2-10 this year!”

What, then, are the media, fans, administrators and coaches supposed to do to fix the team? Simple: start demanding more of them. As media members, be more confrontational and make sure the coaches and players know the team is bad. As fans, don’t allow yourself to think there’s any chance the team will turn things around, lest the team stumble upon your sunshine-and-rainbows post and take it as gospel. In fact, the administration needs to know how bad the team is, so you must stop going to games. That’ll show them. Then they’ll have to do something.

Well, the harshest media market is widely agreed to be New York City, and yet somehow, despite all the harshness there, it hasn’t molded the Jets into perennial champions (nor has Rutgers received that regional boost from this phenomenon). There are many up-and-coming sports administrators in the “STOP TOLERATING MEDIOCRITY” crowd, and though I don’t buy in to their philosophy, I’m excited for them to rise through the ranks and fix Illinois athletics.

2: “We’ll never attract talent with such NEGATIVE FANS!”

So, our unfortunate fan had his face rocked off by a TOLERATE MEDIOCRITY elder, but he’s more unhappy that the Fighting Illini have been consigned to another loss. This one got away from them early, and some key mistakes in the first part of the contest really put them in a hole that was hard to dig out of. So, he keeps coming back to how poorly we executed a particular play, or a coaching decision that still doesn’t make any sense. Maybe he’s just frustrated because we don’t have players that are good at doing the things our coach wants players to do.

This frustration prompts a response from a member of the second school of thought, who chastises this fan. “This kind of post is bad for our community — we have to be supportive and believe in our program!! How can we expect to get difference-making recruits when our fanbase is so negative — nobody wants that environment!!”

This is their central message: you, the fan, must always say positive things about the team and its performance because the players will read your posts and be encouraged enough to go win the next one. Not only that, but our top recruiting targets will see your post and think to themselves, “you know, this place is truly special. People that post about this team on the internet only ever want to say uplifting things! I should go here!” I don’t know if high-profile recruits spend a lot of time reading forum posts about themselves and considering which school’s fans say the best things on Twitter.

Is it time to fire the coach? No, it never is. Ron Zook took Illinois to two bowl games; what’s a six-game losing streak? Just because he hasn’t recruited very well lately doesn’t mean he won’t! John Groce just needed more time to get HIS guys into HIS system! Tim Beckman only failed because YOU GUYS all turned on him for no good reason, and then he was so sad that he started medically endangering players!

To this school of thought, the principal reason Ohio State is successful is because the Ohio State fanbase is a well of positive energy on which the team can always draw on, while the reason that Illinois struggles is because the fans are too blinded by the win-loss record to provide the energy needed for the Spirit Bomb that is Illinois revenue sports. This crowd believes that the way to make Illinois successful is to stay the course with all personnel and make every fan believe in Illinois in their hearts. We negative-thinking’d our way into this mess, but we can positive-thinking our way out!

Peter Pan was not about college sports.

Conclusion

Donations and attendance are definitely helpful things to Illinois athletics. These two groups advocate something much less consequential, and in fact advocate for the opposite of what the other does. They should probably understand the role of fans in this equation and stop blaming anyone other than the people that actually make the sports happen: the administrators and coaches the athletic department pays to produce wins.

And now, as a result of having written this, I am complicit in blaming fans as well. I’ve officially become part of the problem. So in conclusion, we should all continue to get in stupid pissing matches about why Illinois lost the game for the remainder of time.