By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Come the fall of 2016, the University of Illinois men’s basketball team will have a snazzy new home thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.
But come the fall of 2015, the Illini won’t have a home at all – for a few games, at least – also thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.
As a result, I think the Illini should look to have several homes during that time.
On Monday, the Champaign News-Gazette reported that John Groce’s Illini will play five home games – one exhibition and four nonconference – away from State Farm Center during the start of the 2015-’16 season because a phase of construction at the arena won’t be finished until Dec. 1, 2015. So where should they be held?
Senior associate athletic director Jason Lerner said that playing games at historic Huff Hall – where Illinois played its basketball before Assembly Hall opened in 1963 – isn’t an option because its seating capacity is too small. He didn’t disclose what other alternate sites the university is considering, saying only that, “We’re looking for different venues throughout the state.”
To that, I say the Illini should play in as many of them as possible.
When serious talk of renovating Assembly Hall first began to percolate several years ago, there was discussion about whether Illinois might simply shut down the arena for a full season to expedite construction and if that happened where the Illini would play games in the meantime. One idea thrown out was for the Fighting Illini to become the Barnstorming Illini and play games in Peoria, Bloomington, Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois for a season.
Now, that doesn’t really sound like something that would be wise for a team do for an entire year. After all, a season of only road games all over the state sounds like a recipe for a bad season. But barnstorming Illinois for just a few games? Well, that actually sounds like a great idea.
Illinois State athletic department spokeswoman Lauren Hutchcraft told the News-Gazette this week that Illinois has reached out about Redbird Arena, requesting open dates. Illinois has also inquired about the availability Carver Arena, home of the Bradley Braves.
No other basketball venues in Illinois have publicly said that the university has been in touch, but I propose that rather than picking one alternate site, the Illini should instead select five of them.
Play a game at both Redbird Arena and Carver Arena. Hold another game at the iWireless Center in Moline so fans in the Quad-Cities can attend. Take on a foe – or perhaps even two – in the Chicago area at either the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Allstate Arena in Rosemont or the UIC Pavilion in the city (the Illini will already have a game scheduled at the United Center). Perhaps even consider holding a game at SIU Arena in Carbondale so Illini fans in southern Illinois can get in on the excitement.
Playing home games away from home isn’t an ideal scenario for any college basketball team, but if done right, it could be a fun scenario for Illini fans – and a great way for Groce to showcase his program statewide.