Looking for love on the Illinois’ sports scene

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

Looking for love on the Illinois’ sports scene


Feb. 11, 2012

It’s just three days until Valentine’s Day, but I’m having a hard time finding the love.

For the state’s sports teams, that is.

Right now, the Illini basketball program is stuck in neutral, at best. Reverse, at worst. As spring training approaches, both the Cubs and the White Sox appear to be in rebuilding modes not seen around these parts since after the Great Chicago Fire.

Up at Halas Hall, the Bears have changed general managers, but it’s unclear if they’ve actually changed direction. And out on the ice, the Blackhawks seem to have slipped. Badly.

But, hey, as V-Day nears, we can at least say thanks to the Bulls giving us a Rose.

And with that, I wanted to share with you a few more thoughts. All from the heart, of course.

Delayed sales? That’s the ticket

Last year, single-game tickets for the Chicago Cubs went on sale on Feb. 25. This year, according to the ballclub, it won’t happen until March 9.

That’s almost two weeks later than usual and less than a month before Opening Day, set for April 5 at Wrigley Field.

So, what’s the deal with the delay?

Well, I don’t know for sure, but my suspicion is that it’s a sign of just how concerned the Cubs are about ticket sales this season. Last year, after the North Siders tumbled out of the division race – and, really, well before that – fans were steering clear of Wrigley in numbers not seen for ages.

With Theo Epstein’s new regime making it quite clear that the Cubs aren’t really trying to compete in 2012, the demand for tickets is likely to be even cooler now. My guess is that the Cubs are hoping that by pushing back the sales date for single game tickets, more fans will get antsy and buy the “9-Game Packs” the team has promoted since January.

Come March, it’ll be interesting to see if Cubs tickets are a hit. Or if the team strikes out.

Miami takes Chicago

Ozzie Guillen went there. Mark Buehrle followed him. And then so did Carlos Zambrano.

This offseason, the newly named Miami Marlins have been attracting Chicago’s biggest baseball names like they’re snowbirds from New York. And now, it appears that MLB’s new big spenders – exactly where are the Marlins getting all this money? – may pluck another star from the Windy City before he even arrived in Chicago.

According to a report in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old hotshot Cuban defector that both the Cubs and White Sox have reportedly been targeting as the future of their outfield, is likely headed to the Marlins for a four-year deal worth up to $40 million.

With neither the Cubs nor the Sox putting much star power on the field right now, Cespedes would have given fans a reason to pay attention. Instead, though, it appears the Marlins will be the ones paying him.


Illini sing the blues

Ron Zook is out in Champaign. And it’s looking increasingly likely that Bruce Weber may soon follow him.

If new Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas does make that call, it brings up an interesting question. Has any major-conference AD fired both his football and men’s basketball coaches in the same season before? Perhaps it has happened (I couldn’t track down an example), but find it unlikely that any AD has turned that trick in his first year.

With Jolette Law’s women’s basketball program also struggling, however, it’s possible Thomas could fire all three of Illinois’ highest profile coaches in the span of just a few months.

And I can’t imagine that’s ever happened before.

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