Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman speaks during his annual media roundtable at Bielfeldt Athletic Administration building in Champaign on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois is poised to reward athletic director Josh Whitman with a raise and a three-year contract extension.

Chancellor Robert Jones on Wednesday proposed extending Whitman’s contract through June 30, 2024, and raising his base salary to $750,000.

The proposal includes a $25,000 raise in the subsequent years of the new contract, bringing his salary to $850,000 in 2023-24.

Whitman signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $600,000 when he was hired in 2016.

His pay this year is $668,561, plus an annual car allowance of $8,000.

Whitman is currently eligible for up to $200,000 in annual bonuses based on academic, athletic and fundraising goals but that amount would rise to $250,000 under the proposed deal.

Jones credited Whitman with generating new enthusiasm about the athletic program and putting it on a more competitive path, including in football.

“I’m very pleased at the way that Mr. Whitman has conducted himself,” he added.

Could raise, contract extension be in the cards for UI athletic director?

Meeting in committee Wednesday, UI trustees said they support the proposed deal, which will be voted on at their full board meeting today in Chicago. It would be paid for with a combination of athletic operating and university reserve funds, according to the board item.

The new agreement also amends other terms, setting forth specific instances in which Whitman could be fired for cause, though those were not included in the board item.

If Whitman is fired without cause, he would be paid 100 percent of the compensation remaining in his contract, up to a cap of $2.987 million. That would be mitigated if he finds another job, the board item says.

If he resigns before the end of the contract, he will pay the university $1 million in the first year of the contract and $200,000 less in each successive year.

Trustee Ed McMillan noted that Whitman would still be in the bottom third of the Big Ten in terms of compensation.

“It’s not as if we’re moving him significantly higher in his relationship to other athletic directors,” McMillan said.

Trustee Ricardo Estrada said the UI should highlight the strong graduation rates for its student-athletes.

Jones told trustees that he wanted to send a “very strong message” that the university plans to keep Whitman as athletic director.

“He has really served this university by most measures extremely well, and in many cases I think exceeding the expectation that is held across our athletic conference,” Jones said.

Whitman has helped “reshape the narrative that I think existed in that program” when he was brought on board, Jones said. He cited a “greater sense of optimism and pride in our athletic program as evidenced by ticket sales,” though he offered no specifics.

He also cited Whitman’s fundraising efforts.

“I think we all would agree that he has done a fantastic job in making sure our student-athletes across all of our sports have first-class facilities in which to compete,” he said.

“Most importantly, he’s brought about a sense of integrity to our athletic program” and avoided issues plaguing other universities, Jones said.

President Tim Killeen called Whitman an “excellent mentor for our young athletes.”

“In all regards, he’s a strong representative of the University of Illinois system,” Killeen said.

Whitman previously served as athletic director at Washington University in St. Louis. He was a four-year starting tight end and two-time Academic All-American for the Illini and spent parts of four seasons in the NFL. He graduated from Illinois with a degree in finance and later earned his law degree from the UI.

Before joining Washington University, Whitman was athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He previously practiced law with a firm in Washington, D.C., and he served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).

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