CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced an ambitious goal Monday: Raise $300 million by 2022 and begin that quest at a time when the school’s flagship sport — football — is committed to a full rebuild and has a six-game losing streak to show for it.
Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said the money will be used for three specific areas. The largest chunk will include more than $200 million designated for capital projects, the cornerstone of which is the previously announced Football Performance Center, a 112,000 square foot, $79.2 million facility that will open in 2019.
Whitman said donors already have stepped up to commit $20 million to the project and he hopes to have a major donor with a gift significant enough to earn naming rights to the building.
He said they’re selling the idea of supporting the renaissance of Illini football before the program turns a corner and delivers a better product on the field.
“You’re looking for people to invest, people who want to be a part of the build, a part of the process,” Whitman said. “When someone is there from ground zero, it makes the end result that much sweeter when they know they were a part of making that success possible.
“It’s very easy for people to get excited and jump on the bandwagon once we’re great. It takes a special person to buy into it at the outside. It’s a pretty powerful message, one people have been receptive to so far. People are excited.”
When completed, the football performance center will upgrade Illinois’ facilities considerably, Whitman said. “This will absolutely put us in the top tier of the Big Ten.”
Head football coach Lovie Smith, who had input on the design, said an upgrade of facilities is something he and Whitman have talked about since he was hired.
“Recruiting is a lot about facilities and what’s in front of an athlete when they get on campus,” he said. “Once we get it completed it’s going to be a showcase. We feel good about the type of training and teaching we can get done (in there).”
The facility will include a new weight room, team auditorium, coaches offices and meeting rooms, recruiting lounge, team locker room, sports medicine and nutrition areas plus a couple of extras including a two-lane bowling alley and a barber shop.
“We’re not going to have more than everybody else has but you have to keep up with what people have,” Smith said.
Whitman said $70 million will go toward the scholarships raised by the I-Fund for student-athletes, $30 million for student-athlete enhancements such as academic services, tutorial assistance and learning enhancement specialists, and the $200 million for capital projects.
He said he hopes to soon announce other capital projects.
Whitman also said the school continues to explore the feasibility of adding intercollegiate men’s hockey, but that the $300 million being raised as part of the “With Illinois” project would not cover that expense.
“We’re working with consultants and anxious to see how that works out,” Whitman said. “If we can bring hockey across the finish line that would be above and beyond; we see it as a tremendous opportunity to get a hockey program and to transform our community.”
Sources have said the university is looking at a three-rink facility with one rink designated for community use, another as a practice rink and a third as part of a 5,000-seat arena for competition.
Although the university has received encouragement from the National Hockey League and the Chicago Blackhawks, funding for the hockey facility and program would be essential and remains unresolved.