Josh Whitman 1-on-1

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman sits down with WCIA 3 Sports Director Bret Beherns to chat about hockey, expectations for football and men’s basketball this season, putting the annual game at the United Center on hiatus, and Bobby Roundtree’s recovery from a severe spinal injury.

BRET BEHERNS:
“How often do you get asked about hockey?”

JOSH WHITMAN:
“Every day. Every day somebody wants to know about Illinois hockey, which is great. I think it speaks to the interest that people have in the sport.”

BRET:
“Does your answer change every day?”

JOSH:
“Not every day but it does change gradually over time but not every day.”

BRET:
“You say you’re confident the sport can be self-sufficient. How does that change your outlook in terms of what hockey can be here at Illinois?”

JOSH:
“Well that was a big moment for us to identify that we had a model in place that would allow us to support the operation of hockey. Again I think it’s important to separate it out from the facility itself which has a whole ‘nother set of financial implications but from a sport perspective to be able to operate, staffing, recruiting, travel, all the associated expenses and to be able to do it by generating the revenue that hockey would great was important for us to recognize.”

BRET:
“It all comes down to money, right? How much more money would it take for you to green light the project?”

JOSH:
“I probably won’t sit here and give you a number but we’re getting closer. We’ve got a few key parternships that aren’t quite there yet and we can’t move the project forward until we get them where they need to be.”

BRET:
“You’ve long said we will win and you made it clear today it’s time to win. How much of that has changed of where you’re at and you’re mindset and everything coming together to succeed, especially with football and men’s basketball?

JOSH:
“I’m not changing my mindset. What I care most about is process and progress. I think we have seen a good process put in place both in football and basketball. I think this past year we saw great progress in both of those sports and I have every expectation that we’ll continue along that same trajectory in both. And so I think it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time. We’ve done a lot of heaving lifting in recent years. I’m not going to sit here and project wins and losses, it’s not what I do but I do think fans will see more competitive teams and I expect that it will mean more wins. We’re in that window where we’ve got the right people to have successful Big Ten programs.”

BRET:
“Was attendance the biggest reason the United Center is going to be put on hiatus for awhile?

JOSH:
“Has attendance and the flagging attendance in recent years been part of that calculus? There’s no question that it has been. We tried to take a Big Ten game in there and we thought that us playing Ohio State at the United Center in Chicago would draw well and it didn’t. It’s a chance for us to take a step back, let the game breathe a bit and bring it back at the appropriate time when we think we can return some of the mystique and enthusiasm around it.”

BRET:
“You said it’s one of the two worst phone calls you’ve gotten as the AD here, to hear that news about Bobby Roundtree. You’ve visited with Bobby, how is he doing and what is the outlook for him early in the recovery process?”

JOSH:
“Bobby’s a fighter. Bobby’s an incredible young man who’s got a great drive, he’s a got a great motor. he’s got great inspiration. So I have every expectation he will tackle this the same way he tackled quarterbacks. He’s going to hit it head on and work as hard as he can to recover fully. We’re not going to talk in great detail about his injuries or prognosis but I know one thing. I know Bobby is going to accept this challenge and attack it the same way he’s attacked everything else on his life.”

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