Illinois AD Josh Whitman talks concerning the COVID pandemic, the way forward for sport in Illinois

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois sporting director Josh Whitman opened his annual media roundtable on Wednesday afternoon with a predictably upbeat tone that highlighted the adaptability and positive attitude Illinois maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitman answered questions from about two dozen media members and examined what happened last year – about a week after the school announced that all of its programs would reopen at 100% capacity starting this fall.

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“It was obviously a long way to get here,” said Whitman. “I think it shows a lot of progress and is something we can all be proud of, if we just get to this point.”

In the face of a deadly pandemic that struck the United States and the world, Whitman shared how the focus in day-to-day operations shifted from victory to safety.

“For the first time in my experience, for the first time I remember winning and losing two things really took a back seat,” said Whitman. “One of them was the health and safety of our people.”

“But secondly, only having the chance to compete at all. We were just about to have this opportunity. Just being able to turn on the lights, put on the uniforms … was very important to us. “

Difficult year for the Illinois

It has been a rocky year, to say the least, for the Illinois on all fronts.

Prior to the resumption of Big Ten football last fall, Illinois was forecasting a revenue loss of up to $ 40 million.

A year later, Whitman announced that Illinois is projected to see between $ 12 million and $ 18 million in revenue for fiscal 2019-2020. Cost cuts across the department, voluntary salary cuts, position relocations, and the resumption of competition all all helped to mitigate losses, and the Illinois people avoid cutting programs during the pandemic.

Whitman’s original vision of improved facilities, which he funded for after being hired in 2016, is now becoming a reality.

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The baseball and softball training centers under construction, costing approximately $ 8 million and $ 6 million, respectively, are on the way to completion. North of these sites is Demirjian Park – which houses the Illinois soccer and athletics programs for men and women – currently hosting the 2021 Big Ten Athletics Championships.

In considering these projects as well as the expansion of the Ubben Basketball Complex, Whitman was pleased with the progress given the circumstances.

“When you have an experience like this, you have choices to make,” said Whitman. “You withdraw in some areas, I just mentioned what some of those areas were, and in others you step on the gas. For some of these projects that we have in the pipeline, this was a chance to step on the gas to find a way to keep trying to put ourselves in the best possible position once we get out of the pandemic. ”

Illinois football coach Bret Bielema (left) shakes hands with sporting director Josh Whitman.  The Big Ten Conference School hired Bielema, the former coach of Wisconsin and Arkansas, on Saturday.

Illinois awaits a return to normal

And not too far on the horizon, the Illinois sports director is hoping for a real return to normalcy.

Illinois Football expects the August 28 home game against Nebraska to sell out, marking the debut of new coach Bret Bielema, as well as an official reopening with full fans.

“We intend to sell this game. We want to see a full stadium. We are very happy to be able to host the first major college football after the pandemic here in the friendly Memorial Stadium against a great opponent. It is Coach Bielema’s first game in front of a national television audience. I’m looking forward to just thinking about it. ”

Whitman burns for this atmosphere, now only about two months, and he said the anticipation is palpable and growing.

“I think everywhere, our fans, our community, you can feel it,” said Whitman. “People are excited to have tailgating back, excited to hear the Marching Illinois, excited to be seated at Memorial Stadium at 100% capacity.”

Harrison graduate Josh Whitman missed an opportunity to perhaps become an athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Illinois, but he couldn't say no a second time.

Illinois Health

Whitman also shared that about 68% of the Illinois athletes are fully vaccinated and about 90% of the staff are. With athletes returning to campus in the summer, Illinois is encouraging them to get the vaccine, even though it won’t make it mandatory.

Illinois had no hospital admissions of athletes or staff, and no cases of myocarditis, a heart condition that has been identified in some people who contracted COVID-19.

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Whitman concluded with a hopeful look to the near future, thanking the department for strong collective support during the pandemic.

“We just have an incredibly bright future, and I can’t thank our student athletes and staff (enough) for all the work they have done so far,” said Whitman. “We’re just happy to be returning to normal to some extent and look forward to what I think will be a very exciting and successful campaign for 2021-2022.”

Gavin Good is the University of Illinois correspondent for Gannett Illinois. Contact him at [email protected] or at Twitter.com/itsallG_O_O_D.

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