CHAMPAGNE, ILL. – The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Illinois has concluded its exploration of Division I men’s ice hockey and, barring any unforeseen changes, has no plans to add the sport, said director of sports Josh Whitman announced today. Effective immediately, DIA will cease proactive efforts to prosecute hockey.
Athletic Director’s Statement Josh Whitman:
“After more than five years of extensive evaluation and intense efforts to generate interest and support, we have determined that it is not viable to bring Division I men’s ice hockey to the University. from Illinois at the moment.
Since we began our exploration of hockey years ago, significant changes in the landscape have brought us to this unfortunate conclusion. We have said time and time again that we would not move the hockey project forward without solid funding and a financial plan. To date, we have been unable to generate the financial backing needed to greenlight the project – a concern that became even more daunting during the pandemic when we saw the cost projections for the new facility. increase by 30%.
Additionally, as has been well documented, college athletics now exists in an incredibly fluid and dynamic environment, including Alston awards, NILs and student-athlete employment rights. We are investing heavily in new benefits for student-athletes, which increases the marginal cost associated with any new athletic offering. Such intense disruption has created ambiguity about the future, and we believe it is unwise for Illinois Athletics to expand our athletic model in such an uncertain environment.
And finally, we have long championed the addition of hockey as an opportunity to meet the needs of our volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics sports. As a result, we have delayed further potential investments in these sports while we continue our efforts for hockey and the downtown facilities it needs. Over the past few months, as the chances of adding hockey have diminished, various opportunities to advance some of these other sports have developed. We are now choosing to pursue these opportunities, which effectively undercuts some of the projected value of the downtown facility for DIA.
It’s a painful decision, made all the more difficult by the incredible commitment so many have shown to make hockey a reality. In particular, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to Mike Snee and College Hockey, Inc.; the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League; the City of Champagne; the Mass Transit District, led by Karl Gnadt and Jane Sullivan; Hans Grotelueschen, Brian Neiswender and Brian’s team at Core Spaces; Ed Scopel and the architects of Ratio; Kevin Warren and Diana Sabau at the Big Ten conference; various donors and corporate sponsors; a number of federal and state government officials; and a long list of colleagues in various departments at the University of Illinois, led by Chancellor Robert Jones and Vice Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo. From the start, it was a “big idea” that appealed to many different stakeholders, and working together so closely over the years has been the most enjoyable part of the project. Even without hockey, a wonderful by-product of this effort is the relationships we have formed, which I hope will benefit the University of Illinois and our Champaign-Urbana communities for many years to come. .
Finally, I would like to thank the many members of our DIA staff who have worked diligently to move this project forward. In particular, I want to thank Assistant Athletic Director Warren Hood, who has championed this project since its inception. Warren was tasked with leading some of the most ambitious and transcendent facility projects in Illinois history, including renovations to Memorial Stadium and the State Farm Center, and we both dreamed that he also takes the downtown arena across the finish line. He led our efforts with dogged determination, strong vision and creative thinking. He retired from DIA last week, and he can leave this project with his head held high, knowing that he did everything in his power to bring college hockey to Champaign.
We believe the interest in hockey and the opportunity for the sport to succeed here is very real. You never say never in this business, and if the right opportunity came down the road, we would always be willing to reconsider. That said, due to other priorities and programmatic needs, we can no longer allocate human and financial resources to the continued pursuit of this project. My heart believes we can support hockey, but my head tells me it’s time to turn our attention elsewhere. We must continue the upward momentum that Illinois Athletics has created in recent years, and that will take the focused energy of our staff and our community in the years to come.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this trip. We are excited to turn the page on this next chapter and continue to establish Fighting Illini Athletics within the Big Ten Conference and on the national stage. »