In Big Ten, Beckman Should Be Held To Higher Standard

TimToday’s column from CBS Chicago

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) For the Illinois football team, the good news is that its record is 3-1. The bad news is that getting there hasn’t exactly been easy, while the worst news is that the actual easy part of the season is now officially over.

Welcome back to the Big Ten, Tim Beckman.

I’m guessing that the conference has missed you, although I’m also guessing that you may not share similar feelings.

Come Saturday night in Lincoln, Neb., the Illini will kick off their Big Ten slate against the 21st-ranked and undefeated Cornhuskers (4-0), a team that pounded them 39-19 in last season’s conference opener.

With an eventual 1-7 Big Ten record, 2013 didn’t go so well for Beckman’s Illini, just like 2012 (0-8) didn’t either. In fact, dating back to Ron Zook’s final season in 2011, Illinois has one won only once in its past 22 conference games.

Even the Cubs think that’s bad.

Of those losses in that sorry string, the last 15 belong to Beckman, which should be particularly troubling for the coach because it was Big Ten failures that put his predecessor on the chopping block.

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Beating Washington would send Illini to the moon

FergusonFrom the Saturday, Sept. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

It’s 2,099 miles from Memorial Stadium in Champaign to Husky Stadium in Seattle, but for the Illinois football program that plays there this afternoon, the destination might as well be the moon.

And not just because of its proximity to the Space Needle.
After all, a rocket ship is only slightly more of a longshot than what Illini football has been on the West Coast over the past quarter century.

In fact, the last time that Illinois won a true road game against a Pac-12 foe was way back during the season opener in 1989 when the Illini, led by coach John Mackovic and quarterback Jeff George, upended fifth-ranked USC 14-13 at The Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Since then, Illinois has gone 0-8 in regular-season games held in Pac-12 venues. The Illini did beat UCLA out on the Left Coast in 2011, but that came during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

At 3 p.m., however, they get another shot when facing 2-0 Washington. I’ll be in attendance, and as for how the game will turn out, I don’t know. But here’s what I do.

Huskies’ D is vulnerable

In Week 1, Washington eked out a 17-16 win over a Hawaii team that went 1-11 last season. But the Huskies were without starting quarterback Cyler Miles, who was suspended for the season opener.

In Week 2, UW had Miles back, but appeared to have suspended its defense. At least that’s the way it looked when diminutive Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. – who some think has NFL potential – torched the Husky defense for 475 yards on 31-of-46 passing and a whopping seven touchdowns, the most ever yielded by Washington.

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Illini Lose Brunson, But All Is Not Lost

Thursday’s column from CBS Chicago

Groce(CBS) It’s estimated that approximately 2.5 million brides walk down the aisle in America each year. The University of Illinois is never one of them, but it sure can rock that bridesmaid dress.

On Wednesday afternoon, senior point guard Jalen Brunson of Lincolnshire Stevenson became the latest five-star prospect to give his home-state school the cold shoulder, following in the recent footsteps of fellow Land of Lincoln phenoms Cliff Alexander, Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose.

And this time, the out-of-state school wearing the gown and tossing rice was Villanova after Brunson made the announcement that he’ll be wedding himself to coach Jay Wright’s program in Philadelphia next year.

Just like last Novemeber when Chicago Curie’s Alexander notoriously snubbed Illinois in favor of Kansas during a televised press conference just hours after point guard Quentin Snider surprised everyone by flipping his commitment to Louisville, Illini coach John Groce’s program was again left as the runner-up with Brunson.

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Lunt’s Slow Starts Can’t Follow Illini To Seattle

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

UI fbo mediaday(CBS) Is it possible to get off to a fast start while also being plagued by maddeningly slow ones?

Based on Wes Lunt’s successful two-game debut as the new quarterback of the Fighting Illini, the answer would be a resounding yes.

But it can’t be for much longer, not if Illinois wants to keep winning.

This weekend, Illinois (2-0) will trek 2,100 miles northwest to Seattle, where it will tangle with 2-0 Washington inside what’s sure to be a raucous Husky Stadium at 3 p.m. Saturday.

If the Illini are to pull off the upset against their Pac-12 foe, the team is going to need points — and likely a lot of them after the Huskies posted a boatload this past weekend in a 59-52 victory over Eastern Washington. But what Illinois can’t afford to do against Washington is wait until the fourth quarter to score most of them, like it has in each of its first two games.

“It makes it a little sweeter coming back,” the sophomore Lunt said this past Saturday after Illinois scored three touchdowns in the fourth to top Western Kentucky, 42-34, one week after it scored three touchdowns in the fourth to beat Youngstown State, 28-17. “But I’d rather win by not having to come back.”

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Summertime surf’s still up in Chicago this September

lionsFrom the Saturday, Sept. 6, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

In Chicago, summer days are precious.

Even more so when so many of them feel like fall.

This summer, much like last, has been an abnormally brisk one. But as August has turned over to September, the city’s temperatures have actually turned things up a notch – and that rise in the mercury appears to have left one Chicagoan mistaking the city’s North Shore for Hawaii’s.

Or wishing that it was.

This past week, K.C. Hoos launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring surfing to the Windy City lakefront. Yes, that’s right. His desire is to raise $101,000 to purchase a SurfStream machine capable of generating 1-foot to 6-foot waves in a pool that would be part of a surf park near Montrose Beach.

With just over $6,000 pledged as this week’s end, I don’t think Hoos is likely to reach his goal. But there are better ways to extend Chicago’s summer through the end of September anyway. And here are a few of them:

Family events

Beginning this weekend in Ogden Park (6500 S. Racine Ave.) and later at other parks across Chicago up through Oct. 19, daring performers and acrobats will be dazzling big top fans both young and old during the Midnight Circus in the Park series.

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With Attendance, Illini Losing The Numbers Game

Ohio State v IllinoisToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) On Wednesday night, University of Illinois football offensive coordinator Bill Cubit made a play online when he tweeted out to his followers: “Saturday will be here before we know it. Look forward to seeing Memorial Stadium packed full of the ILLINI faithful.”

To see that, however, Cubit may have to wait until another Saturday – one that won’t be here before we know it. Or might not come at all.

Because as coach Tim Beckman’s third-year Fighting Illini squad heads into Week 2 of the season against Western Kentucky with a 1-0 record, it’s becoming apparent that wins and losses won’t be the only numbers that he and his staff will be judged on this year.
Attendance figures into the equation, too. And it should.

Last Saturday, with an announced crowd of only 36,234 at 60,670-seat Memorial Stadium for the Illini’s shaky 28-17 victory over Youngstown State, Illinois had the fourth-smallest turnout for a home opener among the nation’s power-five conferences.

Only academic elites Duke (31,213), Vanderbilt (31,731) and Northwestern (34,228) had crowds that were smaller, while Purdue drew a bit better than Illinois with 37,031 at Ross-Ade Stadium to round out the bottom five. However, if those numbers were based on percentage of capacity, Illinois would find itself second-worst in the nation behind only Purdue, according to the Champaign News-Gazette.

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MLB needs to take JRW’s ball and run with it

JRWFrom the Saturday, Aug. 30, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

I love Little League Baseball, and always have.

My dad, Joe, was the winning pitcher on the 1958 Kankakee Jaycees All-Star team that was the first from Illinois to win the United States Championship at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

His stories of that squad sparked my lifelong love affair with the game, and over the past couple of weeks it’s been wonderful to see so many people from all over fall in love with Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West – the latest Illinois team to win the U.S. Championship in Williamsport.

With soul-sucking news about shootings and violence pouring out from Chicago’s South Side on a daily basis, JRW has emerged as the feel-good story that the city needed to pump it up this summer. But the all-black Little League team from Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood may also be the feel-good story that Major League Baseball has needed too.

At least, that’s my hope. Because, I’d like to see MLB take the ball that JRW hit and run with it by using their run as a launching pad to better promote baseball among black youths throughout the country.

In 1981, the share of African-American players on Major League rosters reached a peak of 18.7 percent, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Today, however, blacks accounted for only 8.3 percent of players on opening day rosters, the least since 1958.

For the sport of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, that statistic is a sad one, and last year Aaron told USA Today, “I think Jackie certainly would be disappointed in the way things are today, especially for African-Americans. Let’s face it, baseball was down, and when he came along, he put a big spike into baseball with the way he played, and along came other great black ballplayers.”

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It Should Be ‘Bowl Or Bust’ For Beckman In 2014

TBToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Tim Beckman’s coaching career at the University of Illinois has started off with two straight losing seasons. So did Ron Zook’s. Ditto for Ron Turner’s.

But the last Illini football coach to debut with three consecutive sub-.500 campaigns was Gary Moeller back in 1977-’79. And he didn’t survive to see a fourth.

So, will Beckman live to see 2015 in Champaign?

The answer is that he absolutely will if he breaks through this year with a bowl-qualifying team like Zook and Turner both did in their third seasons in Champaign. While I have my doubts that Beckman’s 2014 Illini have what it takes to get the six wins they’ll need to go bowling, there’s no doubt they have a schedule that makes it a possibility.

Last fall, after Illinois escaped West Lafayette with a 20-16 win over hapless Purdue to snap the program’s 20-game Big Ten losing streak and Beckman’s personal 14-game conference skid, Champaign News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate stoked hopes for a brighter future when he noted that beginning with this Saturday’s opener at Memorial Stadium (11 a.m., BTN), the Illini will play in 10 consecutive home games “in which they should be competitive or favored.”

“The 2014 home slate,” wrote Tate, “offers Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Texas State, Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State, and the 2015 campaign begins with Kent State, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee. This is not to suggest that Illinois will sweep the four conference foes (in 2014), but it’s also true that these four are not the Big Ten’s strongest members.”

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Let’s End The Culture Of Fear Around Derrick Rose

RoseToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) After taking his oath of office in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood atop Capitol Hill in D.C. and famously declared to his fellow Americans that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

But you know, he never met Derrick Rose.

At least, that’s what Rose’s critics and fans might tell you today, considering how many of them seem to find reason to fear just about everything involving the Chicago Bulls’ electrifying but creaky superstar.

They’re fearful about Rose’s knees when he doesn’t play basketball. And they’re fearful for his knees when he does. When Rose sits out playoff games, they’re fearful that he’s a selfish player. And when he goes all-out in exhibitions, they’re fearful that he’s a reckless one. After scoring only three points during USA Basketball’s 30-point blowout of Slovenia on Tuesday, I’ve even seen them fear that Rose just isn’t good any longer.

For an athlete who’s spent his entire life striking fear in the hearts of opponents, it’s ironic to now see so many people so fearful for Rose. Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, it’s understandable to fret about the health of a guy who’s played only 49 NBA games in three seasons.

But it’s pointless to live in fear of it.

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It’s Time The Illini Erect Statues Honoring Butkus, Halas

Fox Cable Networks at the Cable Show 2008Tuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) With only three winning seasons out of its last 12, the current reputation of University of Illinois football doesn’t have much going for it. But the enduring reputation of the Illini’s football past? Well, that’s golden.

Although, right now, only part of it is bronzed.

And it’s time for that to change.

Last month at Illiniboard.com, popular Illini blogger Robert Rosenthal wrote: “There are two. Two sides to Memorial Stadium. We call them East and West. Your seats are in the West Main or maybe they’re in the East Balcony. A few years ago, the west side became the (Red) Grange side. A statue, outside the walls, dead center on the 50, memorializing the greatest college football player of all time. That’s the Grange side.

“It’s time for a Butkus side.”

He’s right — it is. But while there are two sides to Memorial Stadium, Illinois actually boasts three football immortals, and all of them – George Halas included – deserve their statuesque due.

This coming Sunday, prior to its season opener against SMU, Baylor will celebrate the grand opening of its new 45,000-seat McLane Stadium by unveiling a statue celebrating quarterback Robert Griffin III. It was only three years ago that Griffin – now with the Washington Redskins – won the 2011 Heisman Trophy for the Bears, and already the guy has a statue in Waco. I’d say that’s a premature honor.

Conversely, Illinois’ own pigskin honors are running behind, considering that it’s been 50 years since Dick Butkus played his last down in Champaign and 95 years since Halas won Rose Bowl MVP for the Illini.

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