If you ask any athlete (beyond the house-league or intramural levels) why they play sports, their first answer will most likely be “Because I love to play the game.” And their second answer would most likely be, “I play for the fans.” At most levels, but especially in college, fans, stadiums and chants help to fuel the home team while intimidating their opponents.
In a power ranking of college football’s top 50 student sections, Illinois did not make an appearance while 7 of 12 Big Ten teams did. Iowa slipped in at number 37, and those of us who have been to an Iowa tailgate know why. Michigan St. showed up at number 23, Michigan at 14, Nebraska at 12, Ohio State at 8, Wisconsin at 4, and Penn State sat at a cool 1. Now, nobody really likes Penn State (other than Penn State), but the Big Ten had a pretty respectable showing in this pool.
It’s really tough to compete with schools whose stadiums hold over 100,000 fans when yours holds a measly 60,000. Hey, at least they hold 13,000 more than Ryan Field’s (Northwestern) sad 47,000. I guess they figured most of the fans would be watching the game on mute from home while they finish their physics homework.
In a pool of the nations most loyal fans (out of 124 teams), Illinois found a way to sneak in. They ranked in the top half of the pack at number 50 while their Big Ten counterparts showed up as follows: Indiana at 74, Minnesota at 72, Northwestern at 62, Purdue 37, Michigan State 32, Iowa 22, Wisconsin 17, Penn State 6, Nebraska 3, Ohio State 2, and Michigan 1.
The Big Ten had four of the top 10 most loyal fan bases. Now, I don’t know how the hell someone came up with these rankings, but they took the time to rank and write about 124 college teams, so they must know something about loyal fans.
If we ranked the Big Ten in terms of best attendance percentages (filling up the highest percent of one’s own stadium), Illinois would fall in third to last at number nine. To me, this seems pretty bush league for a team who is supposed to be ranked top 50 in fan loyalty.
Might it be the 11 a.m. home games that the Illini just got slotted for? After all, if you’re a college student, are you really going to sacrifice your Friday night to wake up early on a Saturday morning? In order to make the 11 a.m. game and have a “few” beers before, you would have to get up at 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. Now, for a loyal fan of a school with a great football team, this a no brainer, but for a struggling program who lost their last six regular season games, getting up at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday to watch your team play Western Michigan or Charleston Southern, it just doesn’t seem plausible.
So what do all of these rankings mean? They mean that the Big Ten have a ton of nationwide popularity, their fans are loyal, they fill stadiums and they are one of the best conferences in the nation. Okay, but what do these rankings mean for the Illini? They mean that this historic program has not been living up to its potential. It means that it is a mockery to the school, the fans and the history of the team that Minnesota is filling up a larger percentage of their stadium than the descendants of our retired mascot, Chief Illiniwek. It is imperative that the Illini fans show their support for a season that is certainly going to be a grind and a battle. ILL-INI
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