By Sean McDevitt
According to the University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitmans daughter Tate, his favorite construction vehicle is a bulldozer.
Tate, aged five, has assigned a favorite to everyone in the Whitman household, from color to animal to ice cream. The favorites are set in stone. And at the Whitman house, the bulldozer is Josh’s favorite.
At his annual media roundup on June 28, Whitman described how he identifies with his “darling” in a variety of ways.
“When I think about my role in collegiate athletics, I think in general we’re the bulldozers,” Whitman said at the recent media round. “Our job is to clear the way for our coaches and our student-athletes to go full throttle; no breaks all the time.”
Through his leadership over the past year, Whitman has overseen several high-level athletic programs in Illinois, including the men’s basketball team, which won the Big Ten for the first time since 2005, the men’s golf team, which won the Big Ten championship for won a conference. Record seventh straight season, to name a few. A total of six teams finished in the top-25 and 12 competed in the NCAA postseason.
“Our job is to clear the way for our coaches and our student-athletes to go full throttle; no breaks all the time.”
– Sports director Josh Whitman
The literal bulldozers
Facilities also featured prominently over the past year, from the grand opening of the Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois and a recent expansion of the Demirjian Indoor Golf Practice Facility, to the near-complete Susan and Clint Atkins Baseball Training Center and Rex and Alice A. Martin Softball Training Center.
Also nearing completion is a renovated basketball complex designed by Richard T. Ubben. The expansion adds approximately 40,000 square feet to the existing structure while remodeling more than 40,000 square feet of the existing space. The practice sites will be completed by the end of the summer, with the Northside and Southside phases in early to mid-October. The entire system should be completed by the start of the season.
In addition, plans are underway for incremental improvements to Huff Hall and Memorial Stadium.
At Huff Hall, the old basketball goals will be removed from the ceiling, the ceiling and walls will be repainted for the first time in a very long time, and a new video board will be installed to improve the endgame experience for fans.
Whitman is always thinking of making improvements to Memorial Stadium and football game day. Of course, doing so in a financially responsible manner is also crucial.
“Since we’ve been looking at the post-pandemic world, our estimates are around $200 million to tackle the East and South so we can do what I would call our Memorial Stadium dream home scenario.” , Whitman said. “We are aware that this is not realistic for us in the short term. So we’re going to start making some incremental improvements to this facility every year. Our fans will see some notable changes when they come back in the fall.”
The East Hall has attracted most of the attention lately. The televisions in the hall have been replaced with larger flat screens, the concrete floors have been polished, new epoxy floors have been added in all toilets, the lights have been replaced with new LED lighting and the steel superstructure is now painted navy blue. The boarded up windows on the east wall have been removed and replaced with glass, allowing more natural light to return to this side of the building.
Memorial Stadium has a brand new turf that improves safety and playability for student athletes, but also provides a fresh look cosmetically.
A very positive year
Whitman addressed Illinois athletics’ business, calling it “a very positive year.” Men’s basketball set a record for ticketing revenue, volleyball posted the second-highest revenue record in the program’s history, and soccer exceeded budget in terms of ticketing, with student ticketing increasing by over 70%.
In addition, the department has raised over $30 million for five consecutive years despite the pandemic. With the fiscal year ended July 1, the annual fund is up 15%.
July marks the end of the university-wide With Illinois campaign, in which the athletic department made an outstanding contribution. The goal of the entire campaign was to raise $2.25 billion in donations and pledges. Although final numbers are yet to be determined, the Department of Sports surpassed its individual goal of $300 million by raising more than $320 million for With Illinois’ fundraising efforts.
“That $320 million came from over 117,000 different gifts made by over 21,000 donors,” Whitman said. “These 21,000 come from 49 different states and more than a dozen countries. At one point during this campaign, we booked $40 million or more in new business for three consecutive years, which was the first time in our program’s history. And we’ve been successful in securing more than 45 gifts of $1 million or more.”
Looking back, Whitman is enjoying the Illinois Athletics program trajectory.
“There are moments…playing in Iowa, capturing a Big Ten championship in men’s golf, winning in Kentucky with volleyball that will continue to resonate,” Whitman said. “We can allow ourselves the grace to step back and enjoy and celebrate these moments, but we must never confuse contentment with contentment.”
From Whitman’s point of view, it’s not just success in one sport, it’s success in all sports.
“There’s all of that, whether we’re a football school… whether we’re a basketball school or a golf school, nobody cares,” Whitman said. “Everyone celebrates everyone else’s achievements and we look out for each other and try to build on that success. One program, one choice, with our staff, coaches and student-athletes. They buy in big . And it gives me a lot of confidence in where we’re going and excitement about our journey to get there.”