As the calendar turns to August, the Fall sports season is just around the corner all over campuses across the country. This promises to be an exciting fall at the University of Illinois, as Ron Zook's third football team takes the field in just about a month. There has been a lot of optimism surrounding the football program lately, and for good reason. Zook has brought in several top shelf recruits, and continues to find more pieces to the puzzle. Excitement is also rampant around the Champaign-Urbana area, not to mention the state of Illinois, as ticket sales continue to set records. As of late last week, the entire south end of Memorial Stadium is sold out, and with season ticket sales pushing 34,000 for 2007, tickets may be a tough commodity for the Illini this season. Now, even though the Illini look good pn paper, we all know that they do not play games on paper, or any parchment for that matter. The games are won on the field, and for this to be a successful season, the players and coaches need to bond together on and off the field. The annual Illini Media Day is set for Sunday, August 5, and that signals the official start of training camp, set to begin on Monday, August 6 in Rantoul. The defensive coordinator for the Illini last season, Vince Okruch, has taken a leave of absence from the team, and on Friday, Zook hired Mike Woodford, who has coached with Zook at both Florida, as well as with the New Orleans Saints. Woodford brings a defensive mind to the squad, and since he is already familiar with Zook's style of defense, that only adds to the optimism. Okruch, whose long-range plans have not been determined, was brought in last year.
The first game is still weeks away, and already we have a change in the broadcast booth for the Illini color commentary position. Howard Griffith, who was hired to replace the retired Jim Grabowski, took a job with the Big Ten Network as a studio analyst. Replacing Griffith in the booth is Kurt Kittner, former Illini quarterback and NFL quarterback. Listening to Kittner this morning on the radio, he is excited about the opportunity, but needs to refine his speaking skills a bit. However, he should complement Brian Barnhart in the booth pretty well.
And while we're on the subject of the Big Ten Network, fans around the area and the midwest in general are not sure if they will be seeing the network when it launches on August 30. So far, only Direct TV has signed on to air the new network, with other cable companies still in negotiations with the network. And as of right now, Dish Network has not made a decision to offer the channel either. (I have Dish and after several calls to their customer service department, I get the same response -- their plans are still up in the air at the moment). This undoubtedly will cause some people an inconvenience, especially if they cannot watch their beloved Illini this fall. While it seemed like a great idea at its inception, the thought of many cable and satellite companies still not on board makes this a decision that maybe needs some additional thought.
So tell me what you think. Are you one of the people who may be shut out of seeing the Big Ten Network? How does that make you feel? Do you even care? I'd be interested in hearing what other people think about this subject.