Jim Caple
This must be Jim's next major: Advanced Beer Pong

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.

Jim Caple
By next week, this photo will be over the bar at Brothers.

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.

Continued...


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