UI avoids splitting up its fandom

UI avoids splitting up its fandom

Forget the potential Y2K troubles. The Illinois athletic department had to fix its Y2GAMES problem.

On Dec. 30, the school's big-ticket teams, football and men's basketball, had games scheduled at exactly the same time. The football team is playing in the Micronpc.com Bowl, set to start at 6 p.m. The game will be carried by TBS.

The men's basketball team was supposed to tip off against Loyola at 7 p.m.

So fans would have been forced to make a choice: football or basketball? Not even the best minitelevision can pick up cable.

With the help of Loyola, Illinois moved the basketball game up three hours to a 4 p.m. start. Fans will be able to sit through most of the game and still get home in time to see most of the bowl.

"We recognized we had a conflict," Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said.

The school considered several options to fix the problem. A few years ago, Virginia Tech had the same conflict and moved the basketball game to its bowl site. That option was discarded quickly by Illinois.

Because it's a Thursday, Guenther didn't want to play the basketball game too early. It's a lot easier to skip out of work for a 4 p.m. game as opposed to one at noon.

Why not avoid the Big Ten bowl dates when making the men's basketball schedule? Easier said than done, Guenther said.

"Basketball scheduling right now is requiring so much flexibility," he said. "People are changing schedules constantly."

To X out Big Ten bowl dates Dec. 28, 30 and 31 would be too limiting for the basketball program. This year, the Illini men's team plays on Dec. 28 and Dec. 30.

"It's a problem you can't really avoid," Guenther said.

The Dec. 30 men's basketball game isn't part of the television package. That made moving the game simple.

The radio schedule will be shuffled to air most of both events. The men's basketball game will air from 4 to 5:30 p.m. before coverage switches to the football pregame. Those wanting to stay with basketball can go to www.fightingillini.com and hear a webcast.

The men's basketball game will be replayed in its entirety after the football game.

New affiliate

The Illinois men's basketball games this weekend at the BB&T Classic only were going to be available locally on Fox Sports Chicago. But WICD came to the rescue of those who don't have cable.

The station will carry both of Saturday's games, starting with George Washington-Seton Hall at noon and Illinois-Maryland at about 2:30 p.m.

On Sunday, the station will show the Illinois game, which will be at 6 or 8:30 p.m.

The games weren't part of the regular Illinois package, opening them up to all bidders.

What will WICD bump? A few infomercials, figure skating and golf's Father/Son Challenge. Sounds like the station made a good call.

Fox Sports Chicago will show only the Illinois games Saturday and Sunday.

Upcoming departure

UI sports information director Barb Butler will leave her job Dec. 27. The school has started a national search for Butler's replacement.

The school hopes to have the position filled by the end of December.

"She's done phenomenal," UI athletic department marketing director Dave Johnson said of Butler.

Butler is getting married in May to Wisconsin sports information director Steve Malchow.

Bob's best bets

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College basketball, Kansas vs. Michigan State, 6 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN – Time for Kansas to win a big game.

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Pro football, Indianapolis at Miami, noon Sunday, CBS – Time for Dan Marino to retire.

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College football, Big 12 title game, Nebraska vs. Texas, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC – Time for the Cornhuskers to stop playing the Longhorns.

Bob Asmussen is a News-Gazette staff writer. He writes a weekly column on sports media coverage.

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