Questions still swirl ahead of football season
And then there’s Rutgers, the UI’s uncertain football foe Oct. 3 that had its whole team go into quarantine on Saturday.
Jim Delany’s lasting slip up ... the Big Ten’s geographical misfit ... a football trip desired only because a win is waiting (27 straight Big Ten losses) ... a bankruptcy waiting to happen for New York’s stepchild.
And now we see campus insurrection as New Jersey’s state university is turning against itself.
With dozens of staffers and adjunct professors being denied their fall jobs, the school’s union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of faculty members to trace the tens of millions escaping down the hatch ... tens of millions evaporating in debt service and athletic subsidies ... ongoing for years.
It is well known that athletic endeavors there require student fees of between $10 million and $20 million per year. But if you’re waiting for full clarification of this financial disaster, it appears to be a race between this and Donald Trump’s taxes.
Through it all, Rutgers — which joined Michigan State in becoming the latest Big Ten football program to quarantine its whole program after six more positive COVID-19 tests were revealed in its latest testing cycle is committed — to meeting expensive Big Ten protocols in dealing with the pandemic. Even as fall classes are mostly online and housing limited.
Pardon the question: How can they justify pouring more millions into sports when COVID-19 is carrying the school itself deeper into the red?
All quiet on the Illini front
More than 70 universities have made public announcements on the number (not the names) of athletes and staffers testing positive to COVID-19.
The UI football team has had a few positives, according to sources close to the program, but elected not to publicize them, a decision that goes along with coach Lovie Smith’s efforts to keep as much information under wraps as possible.
Getting overlookedIllini receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe made a tidbit of news when he joined the national chorus that football players deserve more of a say in operational matters.
His message tends to fade as, like so many seniors, his attention turns to the season and post-school matters. But my point in bringing him up is that he seems almost overlooked while various teammates receive “watch list” recognition ... Blake Hayes as an All-Big Ten punter, Jake Hansen at linebacker and several offensive linemen.
The Biletnikoff Trophy for receivers has a list of 50 candidates, including seven from the Big Ten. But Imatorbhebhe, the 215-pound USC transfer, is overlooked even though he is undoubtedly the UI’s most athletic and productive member. He has a vertical jump of 47 inches. And he was in the center of Illinois’ most dramatic rallies in 2019.
He made the 33-yard reception to tie Eastern Michigan, 31-31, before the Illini lost to a field goal. His 29-yard catch set up James McCourt’s winning field goal against Wisconsin. He won Big Ten weekly honors when he ignited the UI rally at Michigan State with 46- and 83-yard TD receptions and a 36-yarder in the final drive. Overall, he caught 33 balls for 634 yards and nine TDs, averaging a superb 19.2 yards per catch.
His injury absence, along with Hansen, contributed to Illinois’ poor showings in the last three games. And he’s even more critical in 2020 with veteran Ricky Smalling not returning.
Follow the moneyMost college athletic directors define “reserves” as subs off the bench.
But Barry Alvarez’s Wisconsin Badgers, so efficient for decades, can fall back on $190 million in reserves to meet the tens of millions lost in this pandemic. They are outliers in this regard.
Turning to baseballIf you believe wins-above-replacement is a worthy baseball stat, how do you explain the St. Louis Cardinals beating out the Brewers and Cubs for the 2019 divisional title?
Longtime scribe Bernie Miklasz points out the Cardinals have just two positions that rank in baseball’s top 10: second base (Kolten Wong, 4th) and first base (Paul Goldschmidt, 6th). The three outfield positions rank 13th, 23rd and 24th, and catching (Yadier Molina is 38) is 19th.
And if you’re counting on pitching to carry the load (which it must), the starters and relievers weren’t ranked in the Top 10 either.
Reflecting again: How did they do it? And is WAR a truly accurate measurement?