By Dave Wischnowsky–

To rush, or not to rush…

Is that the question?

Well, for Illinois basketball fans, the answer is: Only if the Fighting Illini topple No. 1 Ohio State from its lofty perch on Saturday in Champaign and make it one.

So, again…to rush, or not to rush?

(Can you tell I have a good feeling about this one?)

Much like this weekend’s NFC Championship Game, there’s only so much that one can say (…or think…or write) about the X’s and O’s of a ballgame – no matter how big it might be. And, as this week has worn on, Illini fan message boards have turned to topics of discussion beyond what the Illinois and Ohio State players will do on Assembly Hall’s court on Saturday.

They’ve been asking what Illini students might do on it instead.

On Wednesday morning, a thread entitled “Rushing the Court” popped up on popular fan site InsideIllini.com, and was launched with the opening salvo of: “I realize it is a college tradition…but I always find it to mean that the fans are surprised that their team could compete and beat a high-rated team. (I like to believe our Illini can compete and beat anyone.)

“But…IF we beat OSU on Saturday, do you think the students will rush the court???”

The topic of when it’s OK to rush a court (never, if you ask safety buffs) is an interesting one and open to plenty of debate. In the InsideIllini.com message board thread, commenters weighed in both “yay” and “nay” with their answers. One of them using the online handle of “ChainsawFan45” recalled how last season Illinois students rushed the court – and were criticized for it – after the Illini beat No. 5 Michigan State to cap an emotional day at Assembly Hall that included a visit from the ESPN Gameday Crew.

“I think most people’s advice was to ‘act like you’ve been there,’” ChainsawFan45 wrote. “But why? It was the biggest home win that virtually every student in attendance had seen (seniors last year would have been freshmen in 2006-07). They hadn’t been there before. Why not celebrate a little?”

Fair question.

And on Thursday evening, to gain some expert insight into this hard-charging issue, I reached out to a friend who’s a beat reporter for a national college basketball powerhouse. I asked him if he thought it would be acceptable for students to rush the court if No. 23 Illinois hands No. 1 OSU its first loss on Saturday.

“If Illinois is the program its fans think it is, they should NEVER rush the court,” my friend replied. “But since it’s the program it actually is, beating No. 1 counts.

“Duke, Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky never should rush the court no matter what. Illinois? It’s open to debate.”
I thought that was an interesting perspective. Because, fact is, Illinois won’t truly be an elite basketball program – no matter how much many Illini fans want it to be – until the school wins a national title. But since Illinois aspires to reach that echelon, does it mean its students should act like a “big-time” program on Saturday and stay off the court if the Illini win, or should they just be college kids have some fun?

I really don’t know what’s right. I’ll be in attendance at Assembly Hall for Saturday’s showdown, and I certainly won’t complain if the students do rush if Illinois wins – they’re in college and it’s only the third time that the No. 1 team has ever played at Assembly Hall, after all.

But, on the flipside, I also won’t mind at all if they don’t. Because, while Illinois hasn’t won a national championship, when it comes to No. 1 teams, the Illini have been “here” before.

Just ask 1979 Michigan State and 2004 Wake Forest how things went when they rolled into Assembly Hall ranked No. 1.
Be careful with the question, though.

They might rush you.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.