UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS — The new chancellor is on board with plans for a new mascot at the UI. Robert Jones met with a group of students already, but there’s still a long way to go before they figure out what it’s going to be.
Alex Villanueva, who is the student body vice president, says they won’t have a decision by this fall. But they hope to have a mascot for the start of next football season, and definitely by Lovie Smith’s third full season with the orange and blue. Chief Illiniwek used to be a symbol for the university, but they retired him back in 2007. Then about a year ago, student groups started the conversation about moving forward in a new direction. Student leaders say it’s been a slow and steady process, but they’re hopeful it’s going to work out.
“We don’t want to rush through it,” said Villanueva. “It’s not going to be a sudden decree, the chancellor’s going to sit down and on his first day [and say], ‘it’s going to be the squirrels.’ That’s not going to happen. It’s going to take several months. We’re looking at definitely more than eight months. Somewhere far into 2017.”
As for the next steps moving forward, they’re working on putting together a committee to pick a new mascot. It’s taking a little extra time because of the chancellor transition, but organizers say they want to make sure everyone’s opinions are heard.
Even without a mascot, students are excited about football season. They say maybe by the time they have one, the Illini will even have a winning record.
Student groups have already done a lot of background work to see how to move forward. They’ve met with other students, staff, alumni and community members to see what other people think about the idea. Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson has said she supports the plan.