Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: July 1, 2018

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: July 1, 2018

On May 14, the United States Supreme Court nullified a 1992 federal law that barred individual states for deciding for themselves whether to allow wagering on athletic events. If the old idiom was accurate, it was a day the University of Illinois's "Father of Athletics" George Huff rolled over in his grave.

L. M. "Mike" Tobin, UI's publicity director during Huff's reign as athletics director, chronicled his boss' efforts in a series of notes he wrote to preserve Illini history.

Just a month after the infamous "Black Sox Scandal" at the 1919 World Series, Huff personally witnessed the wagering frenzy when the Illini football team traveled to Columbus for its Nov. 22 date at Ohio State. The lobby of Illinois' own hotel was converted into a betting ring on the game, a contest the Illini won 9-7. Huff's experience in Ohio ultimately was transformed into his own personal campaign against sports wagering.

"When gambling or betting is allowed to take hold of a sport, crookedness of some sort is bound to arise," Huff said. "Betting on the success of the Orange and Blue defenders should never be tolerated. Leaders of college athletics here should do their utmost to prevent such a practice creeping into our university. I have always been opposed to student gambling and wish to see it entirely banished, for it is a practice out of keeping with the high ideals and standards of students at Illinois."

UI's student newspaper, the Daily Illini, joined forces with Huff and began an anti-betting editorial campaign during the fall of 1920.

"The game of football has not been reduced to the level of baseball's present status," the DI wrote. "There is no denying, however, that gambling has hurt football, is hurting it on the Illinois campus today, and if unchecked can proceed to the sport's ruin."

Soon, Dean Charles Thompson of UI's College of Commerce joined the effort, crystallizing sentiment against betting.

"Student opinion is the only thing that can save football," Thompson said. "If the students would get together and ride the first professional gamblers out of town on a rail, they would soon be freed from the taint of gambling on football. The worst thing about it is the constant temptation the football players themselves be subjected to. Five thousand dollars would look very big to a player who was having a hard time making his way through school."

Prior to Illinois football's 1920 season finale in Champaign against Ohio State, Huff addressed the Champaign Rotary Club.

"We want no such disgraceful scenes as were enacted at last year's game in Columbus," Huff said. "I believe there is a strong sentiment among students against betting and the businessmen of Champaign and Urbana should also do their part. Beyond a doubt, we can deal a body blow to gambling on football games."

The athletic department distributed a placard to help the crusade. It read as follows: IN ORDER TO DO ITS PART TOWARD PROTECTING COLLEGE SPORT FROM HARMFUL INFLUENCE, THIS PLACE WILL REFUSE TO HOLD BETS OF UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS ATHLETIC CONTESTS!

Signs were displayed in every local hotel, billiard hall and other places that might have been asked to back either Illinois or the opposing team. The University Panhellenic Council joined the drive as well, publishing a resolution regarding gambling, which read: "Resolved that the fraternities of the University of Illinois stand opposed to gambling on all University athletic contests; that any organized house violating this rule be suspended from the council for a period of one year; and that copies of this resolution be sent to the inter-fraternity councils of the Big Ten Conference."

At the season-ending football banquet on Nov. 29, Huff thanked those who had helped in the campaign, saying, "The anti-betting campaign has produced remarkable results."

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Steve Lanter, basketball (60)

Monday: Josh Brent, football (30)

Tuesday: Zach Treadway, gymnastics (21)

Wednesday: Pat Quirk, wrestling (40)

Thursday: Jeff Innis, baseball (56)

Friday: Larry Boyd, football (19)

Saturday: Doran Turchin, baseball (21)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.

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