Loren Tate: Welcome, Illini freshmen

Loren Tate: Welcome, Illini freshmen

Consider yourself lucky. When you begin classes Monday, you’ll be part of a diverse class of nearly 7,000 new students weaned from roughly 33,000 applicants.

Everybody around you is double-smart, the middle 50 percent of freshmen in
engineering averaging 31-34 (out of 36) on the ACT and upward of 92 percent in class rank.

Many of your high school classmates who posted grades similar to you weren’t so fortunate as the UI admissions office weighed diversity, geography, race, international numbers and other factors into “balanced” selections.

Strolling the Quad, you’ll see a campus filled with an ever-increasing number of Asians. In fact, the UI has more foreign students than any public university in the nation. About 600 freshmen from China will begin classes here Monday, the UI
needing international tuition because of the stunning drop in state financial support.

Pardon the departure from pure sports. There’ll be plenty of that interspersed in the following combination of advice and commentary.

■ Discount football pessimism. It’s a new season. Because Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State are road trips, the Illini home schedule offers seven games in which Tim Beckman’s team will either be favored (like the Aug. 30 opener against Youngstown State) or highly competitive. It is the perfect schedule to climb out of the quagmire.

■ You’ll notice all that work underway at the State Farm Center. Beginning a year from now, you’ll pay $25 per semester toward that $169.5 million renovation ... and your children likely will pay the same $25 when they arrive in 2040.
— Schooling is costly. Annual base tuition for a UI freshman starts at $12,036, with engineering and others topping $17,000 for an Illinois resident, and more than $31,000 for nonresidents. Add in fees of $2,984, and estimated room and board at $10,000 for double occupancy and a 14-meal plan.

■ Watch for John Groce on the upcoming weekends and give him a high-five. The third-year basketball coach has brought the Illini back into the national recruiting picture. Beginning Aug. 29, he plans to escort blue-chip visitors for six consecutive weekends: Stevenson guard Jalen Brunson and out-of-state prospects Jawun Evans, Jimmy Whitt (oops, the Missouri product chose Arkansas on Wednesday), Elijah Thomas, Doral Moore and Shake Milton. More to come later. Illini basketball is on the move.

■ You missed the Alma Mater when she was green and aging. Now she’s a fresh brown chick for you to hug.

■ I won’t venture into the dispute about the qualifications of Professor Steven Salaita and lecturer James Kilgore, other than to say they’re paying for past missteps and won’t teach any of your classes. Where was tenure when they needed it?

■ Illinois trails only Iowa in corn yield, and this is another big summer on Champaign County’s 200,000-plus acres. But did you know that most corn grown locally is not for humans ... just a note for those who might be buttering it up at the Sweetcorn Festival on Saturday in downtown Urbana. Hey, freshmen, don’t be tardy in attending local events, including downtown Champaign on these warm weekend evenings.

■ You’re joining a Big Ten school simultaneous with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers. One big difference: It cost Maryland a buyout of $31.4 million to the ACC, while Rutgers had an $11.5 million settlement with the old Big East. And it’ll be six years before those two receive the full conference benefits of massive Big Ten broadcast income that will bring the UI $30.9 million in 2014-15, $34.1 million the next year, $35.5 million in 2016-17 and an estimated $44.5 million in 2017-18 when the new contract takes into account the populations of Washington, D.C., and New York.

■ The UI doesn’t have a mascot and probably never will because the dark forces of political correctness mistakenly dismissed the beloved symbol, Chief Illiniwek. The Chief made his last official dance Feb. 21, 2007, and there are those still hoping to bring him back. Unfortunately, that won’t happen.

■ Bob Easter is your president. He’s a good guy who filled the position admirably when called on, and this is his last school year. Work is already underway to locate his successor.

■ Give volleyball a shot. Huff Hall has a fresh look with new bleachers and court, and coach Kevin Hambly has a quality team ranked 11th. The conference dominates nationally, Penn State defeating Wisconsin last season for its fifth NCAA title in seven years. The Illini have an alumni exhibition at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the opener with Long Beach State is at 7 next Friday.

■ The price is right. Of 19 Illini sports, 16 are free, including volleyball if you show your student ID. Look for men’s golf, tennis and baseball to be very good in the spring.

■ It’s the computer age, so you’re advised to join a tour of Blue Waters, the swiftest super-computer on any campus in the world. I mention this even though it is beyond my comprehension.

■ The Block I card section in the stadium’s north end zone is becoming an embarrassment due to the lack of enough students to form words and images. Where’s the school spirit? At least stick around through halftime.

■ The Princeton Review lists the university No. 1 in “best athletic facilities” and No. 5 among “party schools.” Such obvious guesswork makes the lists ridiculous, but it is hard to argue with Iowa as the No. 2 party school behind Syracuse.

■ Did I mention Krannert Center for the Performing Arts? There’s so much to see on this campus that my final advice is simply: Get organized, make a schedule and take advantage ... of everything. Four years go fast, and then you have many of these opportunities.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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