Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ch Ch Ch Changes...........

The news that surfaced last week about University of Illinois Athletic Director Ron Gunether's decision to retire on June 30 set about a flood of questions surrounding the athletic program and what this means for the future of Illini athletics going forward. It is no secret that this decision was imminent and would happen one day, but the timing of it was perhaps the most shocking revelation of the entire process. It has been well documented that many significant accomplishments have occurred under Guenther's watch, and the uncertainty that looms with him leaving mid-summer. The renovation of Memorial Stadium and construction of the Ubben basketball practice facility, Irwin indoor football complex, and the Atkins Tennis Center are just some of the feathers that Guenther can put in his cap. Amid all of the successes that he has accomplished over the years, there have been some things that have made people shake their heads in wonderment. First and foremost at the top of this list is the demise of the women's basketball program. Beginning with Theresa Grentz a few years ago and her running off players left and right, Guenther then hired Jolette Law, looking for a fresh start and a new direction for the program. What has since happened has been downright disastrous, as the program has for sure gone in a different direction, just not the one that Guenther had hoped.

So where does the next athletic director, whomever it may be, turn his attention to? There is the debate on whether or not to renovate the Assembly Hall, and the continued restoration of Memorial Stadium with the horseshoe revamping and possible lowering of the field. Among one of the first orders of business should be to look at the women's basketball program and make a change there. In order for the Illini to once again be respectable with the women's program, a clean slate needs to be done as soon as the new AD comes into power. Also, continued measures of fund raising must be achieved to keep up with the other elite schools in the nation. As has been previously mentioned, Guenther did a great job in making this happen, but the baton needs to be passed on and the new AD must take it and run the next leg of the race.

Back on April 6th, the Fighting Illini baseball team lost to Benedictine-Springfield 8-6 to drop to 9-14 overall. Certainly there was speculation that Coach Dan Hartleb was not getting the job done and might not see the end of the season. Fast forward a little over a month later, and the Illini have managed to get back to the .500 mark at 25-25, after sweeping the final series of the year at home against the Indiana Hoosiers. The Illini needed several things to take place in order for them to secure a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, which starts this coming week in Columbus, Ohio. After winning the first two games of the series, the Illini came into the finale on Saturday needing a win and a Michigan State loss to Northwestern to gain a share of the Big Ten title. The Wildcats held up their end of the deal by knocking off the Spartans, and all that was left for the Illini was to take care of the Hoosiers and get the top seed in the tourney by virtue of winning the series over Michigan State earlier in the year. Drama ensued at Illinois Field as the Illini got the winning run on base in a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth. Matt Dittman stepped up to the plate, and delivered a game winning 2-run home run to send the Illini packing for Columbus as the eventual top seed. They will have a bye and will face the lowest remaining seed of Wednesday's opening round games. The Illini will play on Thursday (approx. 7:05 pm, Big Ten Network) and will go from there.

Who says the summer months are not filled with excitement? Before too long, the Fighting Illini football team will begin fall workouts at Camp Rantoul and the Big Ten will welcome its twelfth member, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. More to follow on the Illini in the Big Ten Tourney, as well as Big Ten football media days in late July in Chicago.