March Madness is approaching, and Illinois has its best team since 2005. And for the first time, you can legally bet on the NCAA Tournament in the Land of Lincoln.
With one exception — you can’t bet on Illinois colleges if you’re within state lines. That includes the Fighting Illini, a No. 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest ESPN Bracketology.
That would also include Loyola Chicago, which made a Final Four run three years ago. You can cheer on Sister Jean and the Ramblers, but you can’t bet on them if you live in the state.
The reason? Integrity concerns, and “protecting the athletes.” The thinking is that because athletes aren’t compensated for their play, they are more vulnerable to fixing games.
There is no recent evidence to support that thinking, however. An Illinois lawmaker is hoping to change it.
Zalewski hopes to remove ban on in-state college sports wagering
State Rep. Michael J. Zalewski has filed a bill that would repeal the ban on in-state college sports betting.
If it passes, it won’t happen before March Madness. However, there is a chance it passes before the next college football season.
Northwestern likely won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament, but it was excellent on the gridiron last season, reaching the Big Ten Championship game.
Zalewski tweeted the following in regard to integrity concerns:
Today I filed HB5876 which would repeal the prohibition on wagering on in state collegiate games. NCAA athletes were asked to play during COVID. Given that fact, the idea they’d be harmed by wagering is illusory. https://t.co/qMjytt2jMP
— Michael J. Zalewski (@mjzalewski) January 10, 2021
Zalewski originally filed the bill in January, but the new General Assembly hadn’t been seated. He re-filed it in February, with no changes, once the new General Assembly was seated.
We’ve already mentioned Illinois, Loyola Chicago and Northwestern, but here is the full list of schools Illinoisans can’t currently bet on:
- Chicago State
- Eastern Illinois
- Illinois State
- Loyola Chicago
- Northern Illinois
- Southern Illinois
- Southern Illinois Edwardsville (SIUE)
- University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)
- Western Illinois
Illinois and Loyola Chicago are likely the only teams who will be playing in the NCAA Tournament unless someone unexpectedly wins their conference tournament.
While betting on the Super Bowl is the biggest wagering event on the calendar, as a whole, March Madness is the most popular sports betting event.
Hopefully, by the 2022 NCAA Tournament, you can legally bet on Illinois teams in the Prairie State.
You can still bet on these teams during March Madness
You can bet on any March Madness team that doesn’t play in Illinois, but a few nearby schools stand out.
The Big Ten is loaded this year, so we should see plenty of regional schools in the dance.
Here are a few of note:
The Hawkeyes, led by Luka Garza, have one of the best offenses in college basketball.
Their defense is a problem, but at 17-6, they are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. And Garza may win the Wooden Award, given to the best player in the country.
Iowa, like Illinois, is currently a No. 2 seed in Lunardi’s latest bracket.
Illinois and Iowa could certainly cut down the nets, but Michigan is on another level.
The Wolverines are 16-1 and on track for a No. 1 seed in March. Gonzaga and Baylor are both outstanding, but most years, Michigan might be ranked first right now.
They are third in the AP Poll, as of this writing.
Coached by Chicago native Juwan Howard, the Wolverines have had plenty of recent success in March, reaching the national championship game in 2018.
Wisconsin has underperformed preseason expectations, but it will still be playing in the tournament.
The Badgers are a No. 5 seed in Lunardi’s bracket. Fun fact: Wisconsin had an older starting lineup at the beginning of the season than the Chicago Bulls.
Experience is on the Badgers’ side.
The Hoosiers are squarely on Lunardi’s bubble and are currently one of the “last four in.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis is excellent, but Indiana’s supporting cast has been inconsistent.
As of a week ago, the Hoosiers had to love their chances of making the tournament. But after a bad home loss to Michigan State, it will have to fight to go dancing.