I don’t trust my colleagues to accurately report on the Orange Krush situation around this Saturday’s Illinois Fighting Illini basketball game against one of the Big Ten’s basketball NPC’s
So let me explain one of the greatest traditions in college basketball, the procedural misstep made this year and how Iowa responded in typically Iowa fashion.
The Orange Krush road trip is an annual tradition for the Fighting Illini student section in which a group of generally 50-200 Orange Krush procure a block of tickets together somewhere in an opposing arena, head in undercover, and lose the disguises at tip-off revealing a cohesive Orange Krush section. You’ve seen this happen if you’ve watched enough Big Ten basketball.
Orange Krush is already a block of tickets in Champaign whose demand greatly outstrips its supply, but only the most senior members who have done the most fundraising* can get into the road trip crew.
*Yes, the Orange Krush Foundation is a thing that does fundraising for local charities and community groups, a fact which even the most cursory Google search will corroborate
How have they pulled off this invasion successfully over the last 20 years or so? Well, many arenas will offer discounted tickets in a block for sufficiently large groups. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is one of such venues. Typically, Orange Krush will book a group of at least 50 under such pretenses as “family reunion*” or a vaguely defined group like “Youth Action!” in order to access these ticket blocks. What’s more important than the discounted ticket rate is the ability to buy a block of tickets that are all together in order to maximize the “takeover” effect, importing a miniature student section into a rival arena. The results can be dramatic!
*”Family Reuinion” was a pretense used by Spike Squad, the volleyball student section, to not only infiltrate a match at Purdue but to take a pre-match picture with a coach who had gone on record as hating Spike Squad.
Below is a video from 10 years ago of Northwestern‘s fun little student halftime competition involving three students riding tricycles and trying to hit layups. At the end, they lose the purple and reveal that all three of them are Orange Krush saboteurs.
This is, to be frank, the kind of stuff that makes college sports more compelling. It invokes the echoes of college football rivalry trophy origins, or more recently the time Yale made Harvard fans do a card stunt that said “WE SUCK.” If this kind of thing makes you mad, you’re one of the forces driving TV commercialization to purge everything that makes college football special.
Anyway, back to this year’s road trip. These arrangements were made well before the season started. I would imagine the tickets were ordered in October at the very latest, so we’re talking a minimum of three months ago. I mentioned a procedural misstep by Krush here where they failed to follow best practices regarding the false pretenses. They erred in ordering tickets for the “Boys & Girls Club of Illinois” and providing information for this very real organization.
It is important to note that they got a discounted group of tickets not because Iowa thought they were a nonprofit charity organization, but because they were a large group.
Anyway, on Wednesday the first of February, Iowa invalidated all of the Krush tickets that they’d sold three months ago after suddenly discovering some impropriety. Because they’re Iowa, a good old humble innocent Midwestern institution whose football program would never be sued by former players for systemic and persistent racism, a bunch of rubes took their statement on the matter to mean that Orange Krush stole a bunch of basketball tickets that were meant for terminally ill children or something of that nature.
There are two reasons using the “Boys & Girls Club” was a misstep
- Not a vague enough lie. Are college students too young to have watched the first season of Archer?
- It gave Iowa an easy way to spin this in a way that obscures their cowardice behind “think of the children” in the same way that Iowa football fans are beyond reproach because a children’s hospital overlooks Kinnick Stadium.
Nah. Iowa’s objective was to prevent an Orange Krush road trip from happening this year, and they succeeded in that effort. Where they can’t be allowed to succeed is to dodge the label of “chickenshit institution” for the way they went about this. Their pretenses were just as false! Iowa has reportedly been a difficult target for Krush since Steve Alford complained to the athletic department about an early Krush road trip. It’s good to see Iowa keeping the institutional memory of Steve Alford alive in this way, and Iowa fans should take comfort in the idea of Gary Barta asking himself “how would Steve Alford want me to handle this?”
It’s typical of Iowa basketball though. They will always take the most chickenshit possible approach to things.
I’m not here to once again relitigate Bruce Pearl’s mixtape (though I will remind you that when leveling charges against Illinois, the NCAA admitted that they had never found any evidence of wrongdoing, just a gut feeling) but that fiasco has its origins in Iowa coach Tom Davis being unable or unwilling to comprehend how successful Illini coach Lou Henson kept getting talent from Chicago to choose Illinois, the flagship university of the state that Chicago is in, over Iowa.
Lou Henson came as close as anyone ever did to locking down Chicago, and Iowa wasn’t the only team upset about this. Bob Knight and Digger Phelps made all kinds of allegations that didn’t lead to any charges or anything but did stick around in the press and tarnish the image of Henson’s Illini.
By the turn of 1990, two teams had taken this resentment of Illinois’ relationship with Chicago (again, the biggest city in Illinois) to extreme lengths.
Michigan said “okay fine, we’ll just pay them lots of money.” This did not produce a second national title, but everyone is still obsessed with the Fab Five. Back-to-back national title game appearances (with an Elite 8 the following year) ensured that Michigan’s status as a college hoops blue blood would endure even the scandal that followed, and the NCAA can never take away how much fun Michigan fans had through it all, timeout be damned.
Iowa’s response, on the other hand, was to do the Bruce Pearl mixtape thing where if they couldn’t have Deon Thomas then nobody could. They didn’t achieve what Michigan did, but they did take down Illinois for a bit and eventually forced Lou Henson out, and for Iowa that might be better than going to back-to-back national title games*. It’s certainly the biggest thing Iowa basketball ever accomplished.
Why is Iowa like this towards Illinois? Well, you have to understand what Iowa means to people from Chicagoland, not just in the sense that Iowa jokes were commonplace growing up (Idiots Out Wandering Around, etc...Iowa was a place where dumb people go to do dumb things in the middle of nowhere, never mind the reality that it’s pretty similar to most of Illinois...who has Chicago? not Iowa!), but also in the sense that U of I can only admit so many students from the greater Chicago area per year and Iowa is a common backup plan. This is my lived experience.
When my college buddy was discussing skipping his winter graduation ceremony, his dad got pretty upset about it. His dad, you see, had developed a dream during school growing up in India: to study at a specific world-class engineering school in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. In his words, “my grades weren’t good enough and I had to go to fucking Iowa, and it took me an extra generation but I’m about to get that University of Illinois engineering degree all these years later so you’re gonna walk across that stage and pick it up for me.”
As dumb as he was in the moment, the dude who decided to order the tickets as “Boys & Girls Club of Illinois” still didn’t have to settle for going to Iowa.
Iowa is trying to get you to believe that an aggressive but relatively harmless tactic by an opposing student section is tantamount to defrauding a charity, and that it is despicable that supporters of college athletics should act in such a manner. After Nile Kinnick ducked Illinois in his 1939 Heisman campaign, coach Ray Eliot of the Fighting Illini won eleven in a row against the Hawks. During the eleventh of these in 1952, Iowa fans assaulted the officials because there’s no way they could be down 27-0 at half besides some kind of grand conspiracy. This caused a 15-year break in the series as both schools agreed that neither Iowa fans nor coach Forest Evasheski had the emotional maturity to deal with being repeatedly whipped by the Illini and that it would keep happening for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, this Orange Krush road trip is the worst fan behavior imaginable in a contest between Illinois and Iowa.
Can’t wait to hear the latest edition of the I’m Still Mad Illinois Clowned Me Podcast With Jordan Bohannon Featuring Special Guest Hunter Dickinson.