UI AD: Goal can't be to 'outspend Ohio State or Michigan'

UI AD: Goal can't be to 'outspend Ohio State or Michigan'

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman on Monday delivered a presentation to the university's Senate Executive Committee in which he provided an overview of the athletic department as a whole. Whitman touched on a number of topics during his 45-minute address, including budgetary concerns — Illinois generated $91.6 million in revenue for fiscal year 2016 while spending $97.8 million. Both figures rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten where the 14 departments generated an average of $113 million while spending $109 million. Whitman addressed generating more revenue as well as generating state pride in the program, competing in the upper division of the Big Ten, scrutiny on athletes and the lack of a mascot at the university and the impact that has.

**On bringing the state together through athletics**

I agree entirely, I think it's very realistic. We're not that different than Ohio State; there are differences. Ohio has a number of mid-major programs the same way that Illinois has a number of mid-major programs. The only program that could even claim to compete with us in our state is Northwestern. And despite their statements to the contrary I would suggest that they haven't quite capitalized on being Chicago's Big Ten team. We have far more alumni in that area than they do. We have to be aggressive in our efforts in Chicago and we intend to be aggressive in our efforts in Chicago.

When we hired Lovie (Smith), for example, there were a number of billboards that we put in very strategic locations on the city — they're very familiar (with him). It's worked out well. I was asked this during my interview process and I've been asked this on different occasions since then and I don't mean this to sound like a silver-bullet response, but if we are successful, people will follow us. We've shown that time and again. When we were going through the Final Four and the Rose Bowl run, you drive down Lake Shore Drive and the buildings say 'Go Illini' in the lights in the window. It's a city and a community that's waiting for something to support. And Chicago does present an interesting dynamic. Oftentimes people from Chicago consider themselves to be of Chicago and not of Illinois and that's a barrier we have to work to overcome. I worked for four years in Wisconsin and there's great pride in being from the state of Wisconsin and being a Badger and we'd like to work to get to a point like that for people to feel that way about our university. That would accrue to not only the athletic program but to the entire institution.

**On strategy to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling to compete with the Ohio State and Michigan**

It's an interesting strategy because our answer to the challenge cannot be to outspend Ohio State or outspend Michigan. When they have a problem, candidly they are able to throw money at it in a way that we can't. What we have to do is be better. We have to hire better people, we have to come up with a better plan and execute that plan in a better way than they do. That's our strategy and our strategy. Our secret weapon is our people. It's building this on the backs of really talented, committed professionals and wonderful student-athletes and a supportive community. That has to be the way we do it. I just believe that when the University of Illinois is as good as the University of Illinois can be, it can be the best there is. I believe that and I believe it with all my heart. If we execute our plan, we can stand toe-to-toe with Ohio State, with Michigan, with Wisconsin, with Penn State. We've done it before, we can do it again. It's not easy, but we have to think and act differently than they think and act.

**On pressure of being a student-athlete today**

It is really difficult to be a student-athlete today. They are faced with inordinate pressure and there is a level of visibility and access to them that has never existed before through social media. All of a sudden, our fans, alumni, they have a direct line of communication to every one of our student-athletes. It creates a pressure cooker of the likes none of us has ever experienced. I have tremendous admiration for them. They are followed everywhere they go. If they are at the Red Lion on a Friday night, there are people taking pictures of them from the minute they walk in to the minute they leave. Thank goodness that didn't exist when I was in school here. It's hard to be in the spotlight the way they are. They get a lot of really incredible experiences in exchange for that spotlight and they also have a platform to influence the thinking and the actions of the rest of our student body and we take that responsibility very seriously.

**On the lack of a mascot/symbol hindering efforts for growth**

I don't know that it hinders our efforts. I would say that in response to that general question my general statement has been: I don't know if it's the right question to ask. There's all this focus on a mascot and I think the broader question should be: What can we do as an institution to bring people together? I think the mascot issue has the potential to maybe bring some people in and push some other people away and visa versa. To me, the bigger question is: What can we do as a university to develop an initiative to ultimately unify our people? We all know how sensitive the mascot and the symbol and the Chief have made the campus and it's just a very difficult, delicate challenge. I hope at some point we can move beyond such a focused way of thinking about it and think about it on a more broad scale. I've had conversations with the chancellor and athletics will be a very willing participant in that conversation if and when we're able to have it.

**After operating at about a $6.2 million deficit in 2016, how to get closer to breaking even**

Our biggest source of untapped revenue right now is you see 20,000 empty seats in our football stadium and 5,000 empty seats in the basketball arena and that represents ticket revenue, concessions, parking, private donations, merchandise. There's probably $10 to $15 million in revenue per year that we're leaving on the table by not having the success that we need in those two priority sports. I view our athletic department much like a startup company in that we're making short-term investments here and if we're to ultimately flip the narrative around our program, not just competitively, but also financially. That's been our strategy If we're able to build strong programs, see the financial piece fall in place and that will ultimately allow us to reinvest, not only in our own program, but more directly in the university as well.

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jjohnson wrote on April 25, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Josh clearly has his head screwed on right; I do feel we are in good hands with him. One thing I want to say that will draw Moonpie's ire is that we have a fickle fan base; when we do not win, they do not come. I come, and just wish I saw more wins.

illinifaningeorgia wrote on April 25, 2017 at 2:04 pm

No different than any other purchasing decision:  if the product is crappy, you don't buy it.

Fickle has nothing to do with it.

Merriam-Webster wrote on April 26, 2017 at 9:04 am

Whitman promised wins.

Illinois has not won.  

Kind of like Trump.

Populist messages... Make America Great Again < We Will Win

Big Promises. Does a nice job pumping up the product, but like Trump's immigation ban, Whitman's hometown charm could not keep key basketball recruits in the fold.

Spends big $$$. Trump wants to build a wall, Whitman wants to add on to a football stadium that is 20,000 fans light per game (that's generous).

Not delivering much. 0-0-0-0-0-0

In fact, like Trump, Whitman is big on Executive Orders, only those actions are not pushing results.

So far on Whitman's watch he has bought out 3 head coaches, hired a mediocre former NFL head coach, a new men's basketball head coach who stayed 11 months at his last job, and a 30-year D3 lifer as women's basketball coach following a 3 day evaluation of the program, and elevated the interim women's tennis coach to full time status.  The highly successful volleyball coach also left for Stanford, so that's a big loss when you replace one of the best coaches in the nation with a guy who has never been a head coach at any level.

Two years ago men's track and field, men's golf, men's tennis and baseball all won Big Ten titles.  Out of this group, only golf, in the very weak Big Ten, will compete for a title in 2017.  More specifically, only men's golf is achieving (or winning) this year, but even their national ranking has slipped from #1 over the last 3 years down to #8 this season. Still good, but no longer at the top.  The Big Ten is bad college golf, so winning a league title is not as impressive as what you do on a national scale. 

Men's tennis is barely in the Top 25, down from top 5 two years ago.

Baseball is in next to last place in the Big Ten and will not make the Conference Tournament.

Track and Field is not in the Top 25 and is not even in the top half of the conference these days.

Softball is better than it's been in a long time, and is #26 in the latest poll.  Perry was the last head coach that Thomas hired, and likely will be the only one that is going to achieve, allbeit in a sport that no one cares about.


illinifaningeorgia wrote on April 26, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for the unpaid, unsolicited, and uncalled for political announcement.

BruckJr wrote on April 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm

It is going to take Whitman and Trump some time to undo the damage done by their predecessors.

Objective Reporter wrote on April 27, 2017 at 11:04 am

Merriam is the perfect example of UI's crappy fan base.  "Win this very second or get out!"  Those sentiments come mostly from people who have neither built any kind of organization nor led a group of people.  Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of those in charge of UI athletics never bother to read the inane comments posted here.  This is, unfortunately, a bastion for anonymous whiners and complainers who take great satisfaction in screaming, "The sky is falling!!" whenever there is a bump in the road, and also when there are no bumps.  They are the bump makers.  My sense is this isn't much different than other "forums" in Big10 towns, but it sure is embarrassing and shameful.  I'm sure if Illinois doesn't at least win the Big10 next year, Merriam will call for the heads of both Whitman and Underwood.