Tate: Money, recruiting lead college football talks

Tate: Money, recruiting lead college football talks

The press of this state's financial crisis is debilitating for the UI, and even worse for less affluent colleges.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Northern Illinois, which had dreams of becoming football's "Boise of the Midwest," saw state appropriations fall from $91 million in 2015 to $26.4 million, resulting in lower enrollment and the abolishment of 50 academic programs.

The spillover to athletics became apparent when Huskie AD Sean Frazier dropped a home date with Idaho in 2018 in order to accept a $1.6 million guarantee at Florida State.

"This will save people's jobs and a lot of heartbreak," Frazier said of a department that has already cut "millions" from its $27.3 million athletic budget. Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel reports that one-third of the NIU athletic department funding comes from students, and their numbers are declining.

Rod Carey's Huskies also have lucrative and highly challenging 2018 deals with perennial bowl qualifiers Iowa (14 trips in 16 years) and BYU (12 straight). As for this fall, the Huskies have two difficult September jaunts, to Nebraska and San Diego State.

So, due to the money crunch and last season's 5-7 record, the goal of becoming the Midwest's Boise State is less realistic.

Looking back, Boise lifted itself out of "mid-major" status by upending Oklahoma 43-42 in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1, 2007, and stands 17-8 against Power 5 opponents since that date. Some have labeled the Broncos as the football equivalent round-balling Gonzaga. But there is no Midwest football equivalent.

Eastern Illinois athletic director Tom Michael also recognizes the financial need for a "money game," with the Panthers accepting a contract of more than $500,000 to open the 2018 football season at Arkansas.

 

Back at the state school

Andy Romine, Tuscola football coach, spoke out on what many hold under their breath when he explained tackle Hunter Woodard's commitment to Oklahoma State, saying:

"I don't think it's Hunter alone. There's some deep concern for the number of people (the Illini) have on the roster and the chance to be competitive."

Competitive? Clearly, Lovie Smith hasn't shaken off all the negatives attached to the UI program.

His operation is still in the embryo stage, and no one knows the ultimate outcome. A 3-9 season followed by a shortfall of talent for spring drills certainly raised questions, particularly with the six-year Big Ten record of 10-39 building on itself.

And more doubts are building around 2018 recruiting. After hitting the home state hard with 10 quality residents in the incoming 2017 class, the Smith staff finds itself in catch-up mode.

Scout's Ryan Easterling writes that, while the UI was successful with fleet Peoria quarterback Coran Taylor, 14 other Illinoisans have chosen elsewhere ... not only within the Big Ten, but beyond (Warren receiver Micah Jones to Notre Dame and Carterville tight end Luke Ford to Arkansas).

 

Losing in the conference

Off to the fastest start among Big Ten schools, and more than halfway toward the limit of 25 in 2018, is Northwestern with 13 commits, including six from this state. Heading into his 12th season, coach Pat Fitzgerald is deeply connected to the suburbs.

Penn State is right behind with 12 commits. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who loaded up on Western Michigan de-commits this year, has 11 on board for 2018, including Marist defensive tackle Elijah Teague. Wisconsin has Lake Zurich linebacker Jack Sanborn among eight 2018 commits. Nebraska and Ohio State are right behind with seven apiece.

It's too early for Illini fans to wring their hands. There'll be heavy movement in June, and Smith is digging hard after the high-level talent in nearby St. Louis.

But Romine's doubting comments are real. A lot of young athletes have grown up watching the Illini lose. It affects their thinking, just as it did for Tuscola's outstanding young tackle.

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

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rocko wrote on April 22, 2017 at 12:04 am

Well you lied to us about moving on. Why did you lie? No one would have you so you continue to whine about all things Illini from Mama's basement. Clearly you have no idea what a fool you make of yourself. You sir, are a disgrace. I feel very sorry for your parents who certainly deserve more than what you have given them.

OrlandoIllini wrote on April 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

Rocko, you are correct: Moonpie never moves on. He has only one piece to say and he says it obsessively --thousands of times-- regardless of the topic of any Illini sports item published by the News Gazzette. It’s a symptom of CDO, which is a condition much like OCD, but more profound because its letters are in correct alphabetical order, as they should be. As they should be. As they should be….