CHAMPAIGN — Daily, weekly, monthly, college sports seem to be subject to drastic changes. Name, image and likeness, transfer portal, conference expansion and the like dominate the conversation.
Fortunately, I know a guy, and you do, too. Perhaps, Josh Whitman can calm some of the frazzled nerves.
Each summer since he took over as athletic director at Illinois in 2016, Whitman has hosted a roundtable discussion with selected media members. This year’s edition is set for Tuesday afternoon at the Bielfeldt Athletics Administration Building on the UI campus. I will be there.
Through the years, the questions have covered a wide variety of topics, many dealing with hot-button issues in sports.
What do fans want to hear from the guy in charge? I talk to and hear from you enough by email and social media to get a sense of what is on your minds.
Here are 10 questions I believe you will want answered (please feel free to send me others):
1. What can Illinois do to stay even or ahead of its rivals when it comes to names, image and likeness?
It’s tricky. The Big Ten spreads across 11 states and two time zones. Some schools are in large communities that are full of potential contributors. Others are in smaller communities with fewer opportunities for support. But they all have passionate fanbases that want to help.
Whitman’s role should be to advocate for his school while also making sure it follows the rules, such that they are. You can and should go up to the line, but you can’t cross it. Whitman has to be a trusted salesman who will do things the right way.
2. What’s going on at Memorial Stadium?
This will be my actual first question.
I don’t mean on the field. We know what is happening there, with second-year coach Bret Bielema trying to build on last season’s five wins.
We’re talking about in the stands, especially on the east and south sides of the venerable venue.
The west and north are already fixed up, ready for another 100 years as the place hits the century mark in 2023.
But the south and east are long overdue for major improvements. If your seats are in the east or south and you have visited the west, the discrepancy is notable.
The athletic department has been spending big to improve the athlete experience, which is the right thing to do. But the fans deserve upgrades, too.
3. What can be done to ease the pain of the portal?Illinois fans spent two years rooting for Andre Cubelo.
Now, he is gone.
Off to St. John’s and the Big East. Others moved on too, in many sports.
The Illinois athletic director seems to favor the idea of subtle changes to the rules that will make it more appealing for athletes to stay put.
Some have suggested a minimum commitment (say, two years) when a player first enrolls. But it seems unlikely that would survive challenges, legal or otherwise.
It will ultimately fall on the programs to make their teams so successful few will want to leave.
4. Should the FBS expand its playoff?If Illinois ever wants to participate in it, then yes. Maybe there is a scenario where the school could make the current four-team field now. But it is a long shot.
With a 12-team field, or even eight, Illinois has a chance. If there was a 12-team playoff in 2001, Illinois would have made the cut. Easily.
Structure of the playoff expansion will be important to watch. The SEC is going to push so it can get six or seven teams in. Nobody outside the South really wants to see that. The power conferences each need a bid, but there should be minimum benchmarks to earn a berth. The goal is to have the best field possible while giving the most programs a way in.
5. What is your vote on Big Ten realignment for football?A few options are out there: keep it the same, eliminate the divisions altogether or redo them.
From Illinois’ vantage point, the first is the most palatable. You get to keep playing familiar West teams every year with a rotation of East schools. The scheduling has been uneven (lots of Penn State and Rutgers for Illinois) but that will balance itself out over the years.
No divisions would make it challenging for Illinois to reach the conference title game. But not impossible. Again, going back to 2001, Illinois won the conference title outright thanks to Ohio State beating Michigan the final week of the season.
If the conference alignment gets shuffled, Illinois is likely to end up in a less-desirable situation.
6. Should the Big Ten expand again?Based on the last time, probably not. No offense to Maryland and Rutgers, but adding them has done little to enhance the conference. It’s actually regressed. The addition of Nebraska and its failing football program doesn’t look good, either.
The Big Ten blew it when it didn’t pursue Oklahoma and Texas, which are now headed to the SEC. Other than Notre Dame or maybe raiding another Power Five league, there aren’t many expansion targets that make sense.
7. What do you do to get coaching salaries under control?The highest-paid employees at Illinois are in athletics. It’s where the market has gone the past several decades. What would legend Lou Henson have made coming off the Final Four in the current setup? I can’t count that high.
If you have coaches who are successful, other schools are going to come after them. It is the AD’s job to do what he can to try to keep them.
Illinois doesn’t need to be at the top of the salary list. It just wants to stay competitive.
8. What are the plans for Huff Hall/Illinois volleyball?The proposed downtown Champaign arena for hockey (sorry to mention it), would have been the perfect building for Illinois volleyball. Now, that is off the boards.
Historic Huff needs some work. Maybe let some of the hosts on HGTV come up with a plan. They can make houses better for less.
Huff is a great home-court advantage for the team. For the loyal fans, who have made the sport a major player on campus, there are some obvious flaws.
9. Will Shauna Green make women’s basketball relevant again?That’s the plan. Hired away from Dayton, Green is trying to turn the program after years of failure by others. One winning season in the last 12. No NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.
Whitman will give Green two important items: time and support. Whatever she needs to enhance her program should be done.
If the program can get close to the level of the early Theresa Grentz era, Green will deservedly earn most of the credit.
10. Illinois just added another worthy list of athletes, coaches and administrators to its Athletics Hall of Fame. Is there going to be a Hall building someday?There are enough construction projects going on at the athletic campus. Adding one more for the Hall doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense.
Now, if a donor wanted to come up with the cash, it could happen sooner rather than later.
The current facilities each include areas that honor the past. A centralized Hall might be redundant.
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.