“We Are the Bulldozers”: Removing Obstacles for Illini’s Success
By Sean McDevitt
According to the athletic director of the University of Illinois Josh WhitmanTate’s daughter, her favorite construction vehicle is a bulldozer.
Five-year-old Tate gave everyone in the Whitman household a favorite, from color to animal to ice cream. Sideburns are set in stone. And at the Whitmans, the bulldozer is Josh’s favorite.
During his annual media roundtable on June 28, Whitman described how he identifies with his “favorite” in several ways.
“When I think about my role in college athletics, I think we’re usually the bulldozers,” Whitman said at the recent media roundtable. “Our job is to clear the way in front of our coaches and student-athletes to allow them to refuel; 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 winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2005, the team men’s golf winning the Big Ten championship for a conference- record a seventh straight season to name a few. A total of six teams have finished in the Top 25 and 12 have made the NCAA playoffs.
“Our job is to clear the way in front of our coaches and student-athletes to allow them to refuel; no breaks all the time.”
– Director of Athletics Josh Whitman
The Literal Bulldozers
Facilities have also been at the forefront last year, from the grand opening of the Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois and the recent expansion of the Demirjian Indoor Golf Training Center at the center. Susan and Clint Atkins baseball practice nearing completion and Rex and Alice A. Martin Softball Practice Center.
A renovated Richard T. Ubben basketball complex is also nearing completion. The expansion adds approximately 40,000 square feet to the existing structure while remodeling over 40,000 square feet of existing space. The training grounds will be completed by the end of the summer, with the northern and southern phases completed in early to mid-October. The entire installation should be completed before the start of the season.
Plans are also underway to make incremental improvements to Huff Hall and Memorial Stadium.
At Huff Hall, old basketball goals will be peeled off the ceiling, the ceiling and walls will be repainted for the first time in a very long time, and a new video card will be in place to improve the endgame experience for players. fans.
Making improvements to Memorial Stadium and the football game day experience is always on Whitman’s mind. Of course, doing so in a fiscally responsible manner is also vitally important.
“As we looked at the post-pandemic world, so that we could do what I would call our dream home scenario at Memorial Stadium, our estimates are around $200 million to tackle the east and south,” Whitman said. “We realize that’s not realistic for us in the short term, so we’re going to start making incremental improvements every year to this facility. Our fans, when they return in the fall, will see noticeable changes.”
Recently, the East Hall has received the most attention. Lobby TVs replaced with larger flat screens, concrete floors polished, new epoxy floors added in all washrooms, lights replaced with new LED lighting and steel superstructure is now painted in navy blue. The closed windows on the east wall were removed and replaced with glass, bringing more natural light into this side of the building.
Memorial Stadium has an all-new turf that improves safety and playability for student-athletes, but also brings a new look cosmetically.
A very positive year
Whitman addressed Illinois Athletics Affairs, calling it “a very positive year.” Men’s basketball set a ticket sales revenue record, volleyball posted its second revenue record in program history, and soccer exceeded budget in ticket sales as student ticket sales increased over 70%.
Additionally, the ministry has raised over $30 million in donations for five consecutive years despite the pandemic. With the fiscal year ending July 1, the annual fund is up 15%.
July ends the university-wide With Illinois campaign in which the athletic department has been a leading contributor. The overall campaign goal was to raise $2.25 billion in gifts and pledges. Although final numbers are yet to be set, the Athletic Department exceeded its individual goal of $300 million by raising north of $320 million in total fundraising with Illinois.
“This $320 million comes from more than 117,000 different donations that more than 21,000 donors have made,” Whitman said. “These 21,000 are from 49 different states and more than a dozen countries. During this campaign, at one point, we posted three consecutive years of $40 million or more in new business, which was the first time in the history of our program. And we were successful in obtaining over 45 donations of a million dollars or more.”
Looking back, Whitman appreciates the trajectory of the Illinois track and field program.
“There are times … the Iowa game, men’s golf winning a Big Ten championship, Kentucky winning with volleyball that will continue to resonate,” Whitman said. “We can give ourselves the grace to step back and enjoy these moments and celebrate them, but we can never confuse being satisfied with being satisfied.”
From Whitman’s perspective, it’s not just success with one sport, but all sports all the time.
“There’s all of that, we’re a football school…are we a basketball school or a golf school, nobody cares,” Whitman said. “Everyone celebrates everyone else’s accomplishments, and we look out for each other and try to build on that success. One program, one decision, with our staff, coaches and student-athletes. They buy into it. in a big way. . And that gives me a lot of confidence about where we’re headed and excitement about our journey to get there.”