Back around 1977, the Illini basketball support group — Rebounders — pooled its money and, with the approval of athletic director Cecil Coleman, purchased hair dryers for the team.
“That was the first item,” then-treasurer Jim Wright said. “Lou (Henson) didn’t want the players leaving the showers with wet heads.”
The Rebounders, who celebrated their heritage Tuesday in Urbana, have come a long way. In an all-out push for John Groce’s first season, president Tom Scaggs reports donations of $20,000 for new Ubben graphics, $10,000 for weightroom renovation, $5,000 toward a fund for international travel, $5,000 for Coaches Clinic costs, $4,000 for a recruiting board (may we see that, please), $2,400 for Ubben’s Final Four banners, $2,300 for medical equipment and $1,500 for a numbers board. That’s $50,200, roughly double their usual contributions.
This enthusiastic group, numbering 1,200-plus, is a major part of a deep-seated culture that makes basketball so important to the community. They started slowly back in those early Henson years, succeeding the overzealous Playmakers who were disbanded after running afoul of NCAA rules in the early 1970s. Henson arrived to find the Illini on probation that first season (1975-76), and he set out in 1976 on a twofold mission of organizing a student group (the Orange Krush) and an adult support group.
“I met with Lou, and we basically selected the board members,” Wright said. The late Wayne Norrick and Bob Eisner were president and vice president.
“Coleman was highly skeptical and attended board meetings to observe,” Wright said. “Dues were $50, and I got approval from Coleman for all purchases.”
Perhaps the busiest Rebounder during the Henson years was Dick Lord. Speaking from Florida, Lord recalled many of the flights he took with Henson, Tony Yates and other recruiters ... from Ohio to Midway to Dubuque to Lawrenceville to St. Louis to Beloit. You name it, they flew there.
“Gene King and I owned a plane and, since I was a pilot, I took Lou and his staff wherever they wanted to go,” Lord said.
The group, while passionately supportive, has operated for decades without a hint of scandal. And, according to longtime member Bill Gaston, when major donors were poised to take over their cloak-and-coffee room at the Assembly Hall, then-President Stan Ikenberry vetoed the idea.
While the management arrangement for the Assembly Hall finds the athletic department in charge, the DIA still pays the Hall to lay down the court for games and practices there. The money comes straight from Mike Thomas’ budget and has grown as Groce seeks opportunities to leave Ubben and familiarize his team with the game-day hoops.
Thomas says all aspects of the proposed renovation are moving along, including the acquisition of the needed 2,800 student signatures for the March 5-6 referendum on a $25 per-semester student fee, and the critical corporate interest in suites and naming rights (big and small).
Like other aspects of our pay-later economy, it would appear easy for today’s students to vote in favor of a fee that future students will be obliged to pay.
Just taking the undergraduates, if 32,000 students pay $50 per year for 30 years, that’s $48 million toward the $160 million project. It should be noted that interest over 30 years would bring a dramatic change to all the numbers ... and further noted that the fee might include 11,000 grad students when the matter is resolved.
Unrelated to basketball is the implementation of air conditioning — once projected as a $20 million cost, now much higher — which would give the Assembly Hall four extra summer months to schedule shows and events that would otherwise consider it too hot.
On the grid
Football coaches in the Big Ten’s lower division — like Illinois — have major concerns that future Big Ten scheduling will move toward nine conference games ... and possibly 10.
Said Thomas: “Every program is at a different stage of maturation. Some are rebuilding and need flexibility (in scheduling).”
The 2010 and 2011 Illini teams reached the postseason with 6-6 records. It’ll be a lot harder to reach .500 with conference foes replacing the Arkansas States and South Dakota States on the schedule.
Athletic directors from Maryland and Rutgers were involved in the recent Big Ten meetings.
— The RPI (Rating Percentage Index), a formula used by the NCAA to help seed the NCAA tournament, moved Illinois to No. 25 Tuesday, just ahead of Wisconsin (which beat Illinois twice) and Ohio State. The RPI system counts 50 percent on opponents’ records, so it helps the UI for Butler and Gonzaga to keep winning. Incidentally, home wins count 0.6 and road wins count 1.4.
— Latest mystery: Notre Dame couldn’t get started and was stuck on three points for nearly 14 minutes Monday. And then, with the kind of reversal we’re becoming accustomed to, the Irish turned a 19-3 deficit into a 51-42 win by holding Pitt to 23 points in the last 30 minutes. This is a crazy business.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.