CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Illinois men’s and women’s basketball teams got an early start to their seasons Saturday, holding what they called the world’s largest outdoor basketball practice on a portable court at Memorial Stadium.
It’s unlikely they’ll be able to repeat it, though. The NCAA is expected to ban such early events after coaches at other schools complained.
The teams took advantage of Illinois’ homecoming football crowd, setting up the court in the stadium’s south end zone and practicing and scrimmaging right after the Illini’s 27-20 loss to Minnesota.
“The players had fun, got to scrimmage in front of an audience and get those competitive juices going a bit after a long off-season of pickup games in an empty gym,” Illinois men’s coach Bruce Weber said.
Weber received permission from the NCAA to hold the practice ahead of Friday’s official start date, and he was hoping for the outdoor practice to become an annual event.
But coaches around the country became irritated that Illinois, along with Kentucky, Marshall and West Virginia, were given special dispensation – and, they worried, a possible recruiting edge – by the NCAA.
Because of the uproar, the NCAA is expected later this month to narrow the definition of preseason practice to exclude public events.
According to Weber, the event was never meant to give Illinois a recruiting advantage, though he acknowledged more recruits were in attendance than there would have been at a traditional Midnight Madness event.
Illinois opens its season Nov. 14 at home against Eastern Washington.
Oregon defeated UCLA 31-24 at Eugene, Ore., in a game that ended just before press time on Saturday night.
Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount scored the decisive touchdown on a 69-yard run late in the fourth quarter for Oregon.