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Editorial: Don’t criticize the athletic department for spending its own money

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Editorial: Don’t criticize the athletic department for spending its own money

University Director of Athletics Josh Whitman continued to show his commitment to rebuilding athletics at Illinois when he announced a $132 million renovation for the south and east parts of Memorial Stadium on Monday.

The renovations, which are expected to be completed by the 2020 season, were just another example of the progress Whitman has made during his first few months as the school’s leader of athletics.

The football facilities are terribly outdated, and the renovations should help draw in recruits and generate excitement for the program.

But with the good news of the commitment to progressing the school’s football program comes an all-too-common misconception: that athletic spending comes from students’ pockets, or even worse, taxes.

Let’s be clear: None of the money spent on renovations will be public money. At Monday’s news conference, Whitman said most of the money can be raised through donations, and ticket and Big Ten membership revenue will help foot the bill for the rest of the project.

It didn’t take long for there to be Facebook posts and tweets decrying how the state doesn’t have enough money for its budget but there is enough money to spend on another stadium renovation.

This is a common complaint from those who don’t fully understand the University’s relationship with its athletic department. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) has its own separate budget, most of which is funded through donations from alumni and fans.

No tuition money or state money goes into athletics, unless it’s approved by the students such as the 30-year, $25-per-semester fee that students voted in favor of paying in March 2013 to help fund the State Farm Center renovations.

Members of the editorial board recognize students’ complaints though; they are valid. We should be spending as much, if not more, money on education and modern buildings as we spend on our stadiums and practice facilities.

It is difficult to watch the State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium undergo massive, expensive renovations while tuition continues to rise and other student services struggle to stay open.

Students’ complaints are valid, they’re just directed at the wrong people.

Instead, students should use this renovation plan as a rallying cry for donations to equal or exceed $132 million that can be invested in education facilities or student services so that we can grow as an elite institution.

While many people applauded what seems to be another worthwhile investment by Whitman, there were far too many people complaining about the commitment to the football program because they simply don’t understand how it all works.

The University finally has a leader who wants to invest in our athletics and our University. Let’s support the movement instead of throwing misguided complaints at progress.

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