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Q&A with Illini AD Josh Whitman on Friday night games, early recruiting new mascot and more

May 15,2017 22:10

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman answered questions during a break in the two-day Big Ten athletic director joint meetings in Rosemont. Issues confronting college sports this year range from the addition of more Friday night games to an earlier ...and more »

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman answered questions during a break in the two-day Big Ten athletic director joint meetings in Rosemont.
Issues confronting college sports this year range from the addition of more Friday night games to an earlier signing period in football.
On Friday night games (Illinois plays two this season)
I think the Friday night games are a great opportunity for programs like Illinois’ to gain some national spotlight. We have obviously played at whatever time on Saturday after noon competing against dozen of other games. The chance to be on a national program is great for our program. I’ve talked to coach smith about it and he shares his enthusiasm about it. It’s a little different for our league.  But for us, we’re embracing the opportunity and hope it will help to advance our program.
On changing perception of Illinois sports
It’s hard to point to one thing. It’s certainly more of an intangible feeling than anything. The reaction we’re getting from our fans, our alumni as we’re traveling around and making appearances. ... We certainly did see an uptick in ticket sales with football last year. We’re optimistic that will continue this year. We have a lot to look forward to with our basketball program as well. Any time you make these kind of changes, if you want to point to things that are tangible, it takes some time. It will probably be a year or two or more before we can look back and say here are the differences that made in terms of tickets or donors or those kinds of things. Right now it’s an intangible energy and excitement around Illinois athletics that perhaps we’ve lacked for awhile.

What has impressed him about new basketball coach Brad Underwood
Everything. He is just everything I had hoped he would be and more. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s very competitive. He does a great job of connecting with people. He’s very much a people person. He likes being in the room. He likes visiting with fans, donors, parents, student athletes. He does a great job of connecting with each of them in an individual way. He’s tireless. His work ethic is tremendous. I appreciate his judgment. There’s a high level of trust between the two of us. He’s hit the ground running and is doing a wonderful job.
On a new early football signing period Dec. 20-22
It’s an opportunity for our student athletes to solidify their position just a bit earlier. It’s just a couple months difference. It mirrors what we’ve done with other sports. Most other sports have had early signing periods for a number of years now. It never really made sense that football wouldn’t have one. Just as importantly for me, the early signing period comes with the early campus access.  It allows us to provide them with official visit opportunities in spring of their junior year. It aligns more closely in the time frame in which they’re generally making their decisions anyway. It was a little bit ridiculous that a lot of these student athletes were making decisions about where they were going to school without us being able to provide them with an official visit to inform their decision. It realigns the timeline so we can be a more active participant in their decision making process.
Chances of moving a signing day even earlier
I think we’re going to see how this one works first. The whole books I always under evaluation. You never know when additional tweaks will be made. There are arguments to be made about moving it up before their senior year.  If you’re looking for comparison purposes most sports have an early signing period before their last opportunity to compete at the high school level.
On football players leaving early and not being drafted
I think it’s something we need to look at. It’s certainly is a point of concern. It’s tough. You tell them the percentages. You tell them the statistics. Everyone thinks if only three percent of the athletes go on to a professional career, I’m going to be one of the three percent. We want them to feel that confident in their abilities. It’s hard to find that balance. Whether there is something we can do legislatively, tha’ts an interesting question, one worth considering. It’s challenging.  You don’t want to squash anybody’s dream but you want them to be realistic about what their chances are and what happens next if it doesn’t work out the way they wanted it to.
On creating a new mascot at Illinois
To me the goal is a unified campus, a campus that can stand behind the University of Illinois and the Fighting Illini athletic program and feel good about who we are and what we represent. I’ve been around the campus a long time and the mascot issue — the chief issue if you will — has been a very challenging topic basically from my first day on campus. I think it’s something that creates tremendous amount of tension and creates a lot of time spent from people like me that could be spent in other ways. The ultimate goal is this idea of campus unity and there’s no question if we ultimately get to that place it would yield some operational efficiency for the university that we’re not able to recognize right now.
Whether there is a timeline for naming a new mascot
That's a question for the chancellor’s office. It’s beyond the scope of the athletic department. We’re a willing participant and want to be a contributor to that effort.

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