March seems like decades ago. The devastating stoppage of sports has hit five and a half months.

How can this be? How have I, like many sports fans, survived through this long, sports-stricken journey that has engulfed our lives? While I have leaned on golf as a crutch to help walk me through this pandemic, it still struggles to fill the void of watching events such as the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals.

Illinois is in Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan. Many business establishments have reopened their doors and several major sports are making progress towards returning. COVID-19 has finally passed us by. One problem is, I do not really believe the previous sentence. While this entire revamp to normalcy is hanging on by a thread of a “Restore Illinois” plan, doubts have weaseled their way into my mind, and I’m sure many others.

The last straw for me was the Big Ten conference canceling its non-conference schedule. Due to this decision being made, a small Division I school like Illinois State University loses out on competing against the metaphorical “Big Dog” Illinois. ISU does not reside in the Big Ten conference, although the university and its fans lose out on a clash between the Redbirds and the Fighting Illini that has been desired for 11 years. The two teams last faced off in 2009.

I cannot be angry with the Big Ten’s decision to be precautious over the safety of its 14 teams. The Ivy League announced the suspension of all its fall sports days beforehand. Thinking back to March, the Ivy League was the first to cancel its spring sports schedules. Now I am getting nervous.

Five months have passed since the last feeling of excitement fueled me for college sports. With fear abiding in me, I have the same eerie feeling I did on March 12, when both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments were canceled.

Currently spending just about every day of late spring and summer on a golf course somewhere throughout central Illinois during this pandemic, that option will not likely be available come the colder months back at school. A time expected instead to be devoted to ISU football and volleyball games.

I am in the same position as anyone reading this. Not knowing what to expect for the foreseeable future with sports leaves an uneasy feeling in the gut. Health and safety must be considered before the blow of any whistles, which will disappoint sports fans.

These times have been unpredictable, and no one knows what the future holds. Those in decision-making positions have said they hope and expect football in the fall, but then to have the most important game of the fall for the Redbirds canceled leaves me hesitant to look forward to the impending semester.

This is indeed just one game on the Redbirds’ 11-game schedule, but this one hits home the most to a central Illinois boy. With Fighting Illini roots as a kid to my current college days as a Redbird, I have had this matchup circled on my calendar since the encounter was set. If I was not set to cover the game, then I would be sitting among the crowd at Memorial Stadium with friends and peers.

There are undoubtedly bigger issues going on in this world than one single football game, but if two teams that are separated by 70 minutes are suspending their game, I lose faith for schools to travel even a state over.

The loss of the Redbird-Illini game was a blow to many fans residing in the Land of Lincoln, but looking past the shelving, will sports stand to see the light come fall?

JAKE FOGAL is a Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter at @jfogal5

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