Though it hasn't been officially announced by the University of Illinois, multiple media reports indicate that Josh Whitman will be the next Director of Athletics. We've already examined what some of Whitman's main priorities should be, but here are some actual projects that he should look at upon arriving in Champaign.
1. Consider selling alcohol at Memorial Stadium
This should be an absolute no-brainer. Grange Grove has potential to be an incredible first step towards reviving the game day atmosphere, but it doesn't really give patrons any incentive to leave their tailgating lots and enter Memorial Stadium. Beer can solve that!
Going into the 2015 season, there were 34 college stadiums selling beer at games. Seven of them were Power Five programs, including Big Ten members Maryland and Minnesota. The Terrapins actually just approved a one-year trial plan back in June, and it appears to be going pretty well.
Schools with attendance problems need to come up with creative solutions to help close the revenue gap, and selling alcohol would do just that for Illinois. Don't believe me? Well, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons told the New York Times that their university gets back approximately $500,000 each year from beer sales alone. That is staggering!
The big issue presumably keeping this from becoming a reality is student safety. But you know what? There's this magical thing called an ID that allows vendors to quickly determine if customers meet the 21-year age requirement. If it's really that big of a concern, then just ban alcohol entirely from the student section -- they're already quarantined off from everyone else, anyway. That shouldn't be difficult.
2. Give students free football tickets
Speaking of the student section, the price to become a member of 'Block I' was $77 in 2015, which was down from $125 the year before. So they're moving in the right direction! That membership cost has also traditionally included a $25 fee that grants membership to 'Illini Pride'; that allows students to attend non-revenue sports (volleyball, baseball, tennis, etc.) for free.
I get the hesitation to completely axe ticket prices from the administration's perspective, but there are some solutions where they can still come out on top. One possibility would be adding a very small fee to the tuition of every student enrolled at the university. If students object to that fee, then they could have an option to waive it.
While we're still talking about Block I, it may be smart to relocate them to another part of Memorial Stadium. Their current situation is way less than ideal.
I mean, that is the definition of 'isolation'. The North end zone would be a perfect spot to offer discounted tickets for fans looking to attend games at the last minute. Selling ticket blocks to fraternities and sororities could also be another incentive of relocating Block I -- that'd absolutely help get the Greek population out of bars and into the stands.
3. Move the Northwestern games back to Champaign
PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S ORANGE AND BLUE, GET THOSE GAMES BACK TO MEMORIAL STADIUM.
4. Continue upgrading Football, Basketball facilities
Prior to being fired, Mike Thomas and his team were planning to build a new complex behind the south end zone of Memorial Stadium. The additions were rumored to include new football offices, a state-of-the-art weight room, and a 'Illinois Football Hall of Fame'. All of that work needs to be placed on Whitman's desk so he can hopefully pick up right were his predecessor left off.
The basketball facilities could use an upgrade, too. The Ubben Complex is quickly becoming outdated and both programs could use a new home in the coming years. Luckily, there were whispers that Thomas was also exploring the possibility of building a new practice facility on the North side of State Farm Center. If true, Whitman should continue those discussions as well.
Both projects should probably take precedence over any potential renovations at Illinois Field, where manager Dan Hartleb has proposed plans that could cost the school $12-15 million.
5. Start preliminary planning for Hockey programs
Whenever the topic comes up, Illinois fans aren't shy about sharing their desire for a hockey program. It would take years to actually happen due to cost, facility, and Title IX concerns (required to fund men's & women's teams), but the university would be wise to start preliminary planning of such additions to their current varsity sports lineup.
Got $100 million to start the program? Football, basketball and baseball facilities are priorities https://t.co/zRU0FT7vvH— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) February 15, 2016
But let's put those concerns aside for just a moment. Adding hockey at Illinois would just make all the sense in the world, really. According to a Chicago Tribune article published in 2014, the state ranked sixth in U.S. Hockey participation with just under 30,000 registered players. That's a lot! Unfortunately, those players can't continue their careers at home because no school in the state offers hockey as a D-1 sport.
Illinois already has club teams on campus, and it wouldn't be completely unprecedented to see them elevated to varsity status. In fact, Arizona State did this just two years ago; they'll be playing as an NCAA Independent in 2016-17 before officially joining a conference the following year.
I have no idea how Illinois should go about raising $100 million, but perhaps DIA can provide donors with extra I-Fund points if they contribute directly to the project.
So those are some of my suggestions for Josh Whitman. Drop down to the comments to discuss what you'd like to see him accomplish at Illinois.