If it happened to Mike Bass at Illinois, odds are it involved Daily Illini duties in some way, shape or form.
“Working at The Daily Illini took me everywhere from Brigham Young to ChicagoFest, Illini Hall to Assembly Hall to Memorial Stadium,” says the 1981 journalism grad and former DI editor-in-chief. “It allowed me to interview everyone from Gale Sayers to Sandy Koufax, Captain Rat to Lou Henson to the San Diego Chicken.
“But my most lasting memory involves where I couldn’t go and whom I couldn’t interview — when I was barred from the Illini football locker room.
“This was punishment for privately interviewing starting players and writing their true feelings about embattled coach Gary Moeller.” (He of the 6-24-3 three-year record prior to Mike White taking over what was a woebegone UI football program).
“I quoted them anonymously to ensure their candor and protect them from repercussions,” Bass says. “Forty years ago, there was no social media, but everybody on campus, it seemed, read the DI. And everybody on campus, it seemed, had an opinion about what I wrote and how I wrote it.
“One journalism professor asked me to address the class I normally attended. Another openly criticized me for bypassing team interview protocol. Another didn’t talk to me, but called me ‘naive’ in a newspaper article.
“Now there was a good lesson, right?
“In the Memorial Stadium elevator before the next home game — I still was allowed in the press box and opponent locker room — some of the assistant coaches stood behind me and another DI reporter. They started talking to each other about me, making sure I could hear. The conversation went something like this:
‘Is that Bass?’
‘He’s the one who wrote that stuff about Mo?’
That’s when the elevator door opened at Bass’ floor, prompting one of the assistants to crack: ‘Enjoy the game, Bass.’
“I actually thought that was kind of funny,” he can say now, umpteen sports journalism awards and two stints teaching college journalists later.
But back then, Bass says, “it wasn’t funny that I couldn’t do my job.
“Soon thereafter, I met with the new athletic director, Neale Stoner. He said he didn’t know if they could legally bar me the way they did and restored my full access. Crisis over.
“Once in awhile after that, I’d get recognized on campus. My favorite was the time I wrote a check for beer at a liquor store and went to pull out my identification.
“‘Don’t bother,’ the clerk said and smiled. ‘I know who you are.’”