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updated: 12/3/2013 8:18 PM

Would Illini football fans endorse cheating to win?

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  • Tim Beckman, who recently said he would not cheat to win, will be back next season to coach the Illinois football team.

    Tim Beckman, who recently said he would not cheat to win, will be back next season to coach the Illinois football team.
    Associated Press


Illinois football coach Tim Beckman declared a couple of months ago that he wouldn't cheat.

Maybe that's why athletic director Mike Thomas announced this week that Beckman is being retained for next season.

Or maybe Beckman will be back because he was lying and isn't averse to breaking the rules.

This is college athletics, after all.

Anyway, how could Illinois fire Beckman a couple of days after they came within a field goal of upsetting mighty Northwestern? Heck, the Illini actually won a Big Ten game this season, breaking a 20-game conference losing streak by destroying 1-11 Purdue by 4 points.

Beckman's record during two seasons as Illinois coach is 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten.

Rev up the floats, blow up the balloons, and map out the parade route!

Maybe it wasn't just coincidence that USC named Steve Sarkisian as head coach shortly after Illinois rendered Beckman unavailable.

Pardon the sarcasm. The truth is that Illinois did the right thing by keeping Beckman. Who were they going to persuade to replace him, Lovie Smith? The Illini head-coaching position isn't exactly in demand.

So Beckman it is. As unimpressive as he has been, any coach needs more than two years to turn around a football program as uninspiring as Illinois'.

Beckman expressed his vow of honesty after Oklahoma State was alleged to have broken rules when he was an assistant coach there.

Which raises a question: Would Illinois supporters mind having another scandal on the school's resume if it meant winning more football games?

I'm an alum who wouldn't after already living through too many Illini transgressions. Yet it's hard to ignore that during the past half-century, Illinois' longest periods of football prominence were pocked and punctuated by football crimes and punishment.

So while I wouldn't advocate cheating, that might put me in the minority considering how skewed college sports priorities are.

It's unrealistic to believe that there's no chance a majority of Illinois students, graduates and boosters would be willing to trade the school's credibility for a couple of Rose Bowl invitations.

The prevailing impression is that everybody in college football is breaking the rules anyway, right? If you ain't cheating you ain't trying, right? If you're going to play the game you might as well, you know, play the game within the game, right?

Watching the celebration at Auburn over the weekend -- and the storming of fields elsewhere around the country -- the temptation is to do what it takes to join the party.

A couple of schools constantly under scrutiny for the way they go about the business of football are Oregon and Oklahoma State. The Ducks and Cowboys are perpetual suspects with big-name benefactors -- sneaker mogul Phil Knight and oil baron T. Boone Pickens -- and they're enjoying their autumn Saturdays.

Who knows what tricks other current powers turned to become national contenders? Did they start out on the fringes of the rules, outsmart regulators, and then go straight after making a name for themselves?

Illinois could take that route, though a scary consideration is that Beckman comes across as a goofy guy who would be caught dispensing paychecks to players.

Still, a good guess is that college sports priorities are so out of whack that many around the state would consider it worth a try if Illinois could have a big-boy football program.

It would be interesting if Mike Thomas and Tim Beckman surveyed Illinois supporters to see how many of them would trade integrity for victories.

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