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Getting rid of Illini ‘war chant’ isn’t difference maker in attendance issue

One more symbol of the Illini goes down, as the athletic department takes on the ‘war chant’ ahead of the 2017 football season.



The University of Illinois continues to try to distance itself from anything Native American imagery nearly a decade after saying goodbye to Chief Illiniweck.

On Friday, the athletic department decided to decree that the so-called ‘war chant’ band music was to be outlawed from that point forward.

In reality, it was outlawed as of Thursday night, when an athletic department official allegedly scolded and pressured the band in to stopping the play of the song at a soccer match.

So, for the time being, the 590 people who were in attendance for Illinois’ 2-1 loss to Washington, they were witness to the last time the ‘war chant’ would be heard at an official sporting event.

While it is hard to argue that the ‘war chant’ was anything be a caricature of Native American drumming and culture, is this really the back-breaker for people attending football and basketball games?

I’ll take “Not Winning Games” as the actual answer for $1,000 Alex.

While the Illini brass continue to try to distance itself from Native American imagery, they fail to take the really bold step. You know, actually changing the mascot and nickname of the university.

Naturally that is a step that would create plenty of conversation and controversy in the Illinois community. It also would cause a massive disruption to the flow of money in to the athletic department.

That, more than anything else, is likely what drives the inability to make this move happen.

Are people really sitting on the sidelines with checks, holding millions back because of the use of the term “Fighting Illini” or the playing of a ‘war chant’ song? Given the recently announced $132 million facility upgrade proposed, that seems to not be true.

Could the real issue facing Illini athletics be a lack of inspiring and winning tradition on the field or court? One could argue there isn’t a worse atmosphere in Big Ten football than what happens in Champagne (even West Lafayette can be more full of life on a Saturday in the fall).

It’s no coincidence then that both Illinois and Purdue are arguably the worst programs in the conference right now. That…way more than some song played during third downs (just 104 times at home last year, good for 5th fewest in the Big Ten in 2016)…is the likely reason people are staying away from Memorial Stadium in droves.

The student section would love to come back in force, but it needs to see winning football to start caring again. It’s what a decade of losing football will do to a generation of students. You want to increase the fun and increase the noise? Try winning some football games and see the passion come back in the fans of today and future fans of tomorrow.

Getting rid of that apathy, not so much the ‘war chant’ is what will make the biggest difference for Illini athletics.

Either the university embraces what the fans want — winning athletics and a meaningful culture around its sports programs — or it wants to focus on its imagery and the rest be damned?

Athletic director Josh Whitman seems committed to the former for the future, while certainly focused on the later presently. New hires in football and basketball in the past few years suggest he’s willing to wait on the long game for winning. But, all of his focus on the little things and a continued losing feeling on the field and court don’t exactly inspire confidence.

Perhaps Whitman and the Illini (notice the irony) brass are putting the cart before the horse here? Let’s start with winning ways in the highest profile sports before you worry about the little things.

It just seems like the focus of the athletic department is on the small things, while they continue to get the big things wrong. Until that turns around, these types of moves just seem petty.

Either stop chipping away at your current theme or go bold…after all, Whitman hasn’t been afraid to do that since arriving in Champagne.

This is the guy who fired Tim Beckman just before a season began, decided to let Bill Cubitt drift in the wind and unconventionally pull the plug just days before spring football and bring in Lovie Smith. Whitman is also the guy willing to take a coach who doesn’t stay in one spot too long as a replacement for a failed basketball coach.

Make no mistake, those hires, more than anything he does or doesn’t do in the background will matter way more.

It’s just getting to the point where the Illini need to figure out who they are. Either embrace the nickname and stop chipping away at it or just pull the plug on the Illini thing and star a new tradition.

The fans are at least owed that much.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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