Whitman, Smith enthusiastic about new football facility


Photo by Eli Schuster

Smith speaks to media at Big Ten Media Days on July 24.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff Writer

When the Illinois Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced a change in plans for upgrading Illinois’ football facilities June 20, the media and fans alike had many questions.

A month after announcing delays to the original proposal of renovating Memorial Stadium and the unveiling of a 107,000-square-foot, $79.2 million football facility, some of those questions have been answered. Plans for said facilities were unveiled earlier this month. The main question — how all of these improvements will affect the on-the-field product — remains to be seen.

But at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, both head coach Lovie Smith and Director of Athletics Josh Whitman expressed their excitement and optimism about the potential results of the new facilities.

“You don’t have a lot of players right now that are coming to our place based on facilities,” Smith said in his press conference. “But we feel like we’re evening up that playing field an awful lot.

Whitman echoed the sentiment and elaborated on the project later with reporters.

“What has happened in the last 20 years is that people have continued to invest in football,” Whitman said. “And for different reasons, we haven’t made that same investment. We went to Clemson and they were laughing; they said that it was their third football facility in 30 years. We’ve had one football facility in 40 years.”

But for Whitman and Smith, the new facility isn’t just about keeping up with other major programs in the recruiting game. The multi-level facility, which will include team offices, training and recovery space, meeting rooms and locker rooms, among a few other things, will greatly affect the way the team operates on a day-to-day basis.

“For our players we want to give them the best,” Smith said. “I’m talking about the latest and the greatest in strength and conditioning, medical staff, technology throughout the building. You want guys to spend time at the facilities, and the nicer you make it the more hours they’ll actually spend over there, and that is very important.”

Whitman stressed the need for Illinois to adapt to the ever-changing college football landscape.

“The needs have changed significantly,” Whitman said. “The staffing structures have changed, the number of staff has grown significantly. The technology involved in athletic training, even the methodology. It used to be a lot of tables and ice, and now you’ve got a lot of open space for active rehab.”

Whitman said construction will begin as soon as possible after the coming football season, but said that realistically the department will likely break ground on the site in January or February, with the expectation that it will be ready for the 2019 season.

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