CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. -- The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at the University of Illinois has a "balanced men" program, which is a very reasonable policy that treats all members equally. There is no pledging and no hazing. On the other hand, the good men with whom I'm staying here had no qualms whatsoever about making me sing "New York, New York," the song the hated Yankees play after every game, with PlayStation's Karaoke Revolution.
And then, as if that weren't humiliation enough, they made me sing Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" while wearing a Tigger costume.
Yes, a Tigger costume.
Frankly, I'd have felt more dignified if I'd had carnal relations with a goat.
But still, this wasn't enough. The lads then encouraged me to wear the Tigger costume to Brothers, a local bar where all drinks go for $1.50. (Is Illinois a great school or what?) The patrons insisted on buying me so many shots that I was break dancing on the floor and no longer remembered that I was wearing a Tigger costume. Which wasn't a big problem ... until I had to go to the bathroom.
I won't go into the details. Suffice to say, I need to reimburse the Sig Eps for some serious dry-cleaning bills.
The other problem was that I couldn't phone my wife to assure her that I wasn't embarrassing myself, because I couldn't punch in the correct numbers while wearing the Tigger gloves.
Anyway, once again it is 5 in the morning. I'm exhausted and my throat is hoarse and my deadline is nearing and my brain feels like Nabisco Shredded Wheat and I have no idea how I'll finish this story before a 9 o'clock class on the rise and fall of the British Empire.
Worse, I have a midterm at 1 p.m. Not only have I not studied for the test, I've never even attended the class. I'm literally living one of those anxiety nightmares where you dream you're taking a final in a class for which you only just now realize you had registered. The only saving grace is I won't show up for the test in my underwear.
At least, I hope not.
We go to college at the wrong time in our lives, and not just because we can't legally drink alcohol until our junior year.
|BACK TO SCHOOL|
|Jim Caple is turning back the clock and living the college life for the NCAA Tournament: Day 1: The fountain of youth|
We choose majors that sound interesting to an 18-year-old mind. We let advisers pick classes for us, then we step down a career path we think will be rewarding. It's only when we've led 10, 20, 25 years of a post-college life off-campus that we realize what classes we really wish we had taken, what courses we wish we had actually attended and what textbooks we wish we had actually read. And by then, of course, it's much too late. There's a mortgage to pay and a family to support; and besides, tuition is so high that the only ones who could afford it are the high school players who chose to go pro instead.
That's what makes this Back to School project so appealing. It isn't too late for me. Over the three weeks of the NCAA basketball tournament, my editors are embedding me on college campuses, giving me the chance to return to school and take the classes I should have taken the first time around. I can sit in on an African-American studies class on the history of race in Chicago politics, or get an overview of the British Empire, or listen to a study of early Christian literature and film history. Suddenly, they all seem fascinating.
Best of all, I don't have to pay tuition or worry about my GPA.
In fact, the only way this assignment could be any better is if I'd spent the first two nights sleeping at a sorority instead of a fraternity. (Speaking of which, I managed to get kicked out of a sorority Tuesday. I'm not at liberty to go into the details, other than to say that the reason isn't nearly as interesting as you're imagining right now. And no, it did not involve climbing a ladder to peek into the bedroom windows.)
If you're going to live in a fraternity, though, Illinois is as good a place as any -- outside of Faber College -- to do it. I've been told that Illinois has the country's largest fraternity system almost as many times as I've been told that the Illini are going to win the Final Four. There are 55 fraternities on campus, compared with 20-something sororities -- a ratio that helps explain why we were singing karaoke music on a weekday night.
I kid, of course. The Sig Eps have been exceptional hosts, and if I had joined a fraternity, this is the sort that would have appealed to me. I'm told it used to be a more stereotypical frat . . . until Dean Vernon Wormer revoked the charter for a couple of years in the '90s. Now they have a different focus and a better approach, and they've come back so strong that the membership is to nearly 130. Illini coach Bruce Weber even taped his coach's show from here a couple weeks ago. As I said, there are no hazing or pledging rituals -- it's just a place that offers some guys a sense of community. They are good students, and dedicated enough to community work that a dozen or so members will spend their spring break in South Dakota building an internet café on a Native American Reservation.
Personally, I think the construction belts would leave odd tan lines, but the Sig Eps assure me they have a good time on these projects. And I see the logic. Spring break usually results in a bad hangover, a worse sunburn and a lot of frustrating hours wasted looking for the set of "Girls Gone Wild.'' They'll remember the housing project more.
Life is pretty sweet here. They haven't made me go to any barn-raisings, and there is a 52-inch plasma screen that is usually showing a game or an episode of "The O.C.'' The only drawback is it is impossible to sleep. I spent a fitful first night here on a bunk bed in the house's sleeping porch amid a dozen or so other guys. Every time I'd just drifted off to sleep, someone entered or left the room, or snored or passed wind and woke me back up. Worse yet -- I get no Marriott points.
I've spent a lot of time talking with the Sig Eps about college basketball, baseball (they're almost all pathetic Cubs fans) and girlfriends. They told me about the time they drove to Atlanta to see the Cubs win the 2003 division series, spelling out Grudzielanek in body paint ("We had 11 guys and there are 11 letters in Grudzielanek"), and about the time they painted John Malysiak's station wagon orange and blue and drove to Michigan to root on the Illini. They invite me to their classes and ask how I fell into my gig (sheer luck, I assure them), and they tell me their career goals. They want to be engineers, doctors, lawyers, broadcasters, financial planners, screenwriters and journalists -- a healthy range of occupations.
|Do you live in a frat, dorm, Maranatha house, Goth shelter or the school president's mansion at one of the Tobacco Road universities in the NCAA Tournament? If you're a Duke, North Carolina or N.C. State student and your team is still alive next week, would you like to host ESPN.com writer Jim Caple when he spends Week 2 of March Madness living on campus? (Hey, if the offer is good enough, he might even venture as far as Wake Forest or Charlotte.) If so, click here and e-mail us with all the pertinent contact information, living arrangements and hazing rituals. You could be the star of Page 2 next week. (Jim also points out that he'll accept invitations to live in a sorority).|
The seniors get a little wistful when they talk about having to leave the house at the end of the year and move out into the real world. I know how they feel -- I wish I didn't have to leave, either.
Unfortunately, to get a full cross-section of campus life, I need to move into a dorm for a night, and then into an apartment with four chicks -- one of whom, I'm informed, might be featured in a spread for Maxim magazine. (Do NOT tell my wife under any circumstances.) I also need to find a place where I can get some sleep. So I'll be checking out in a couple hours.
I'll be checking out, that is, if I can ever get the zipper down in this damn Tigger costume.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.