Illinois unveils 'Football Performance Center' plans

New stand-alone building will be south of Irwin Practice Facility

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) -- The University of Illinois is changing the direction of its Memorial Stadium renovation plans, Illini athletic director Josh Whitman announced on Tuesday. Instead of putting coaches offices, a locker room, training rooms and recruiting areas underneath the horseshoe, they will now build a stand-alone facility attached to the south end of the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility.

The football performance center, as Whitman called it, will be connected to the south end of the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility and attached to the northeast side of Memorial Stadium. The building will cost between $60 and $80 million, well below the original number of $135 million. Horseshoe renovation plans for the future are in the works but a start date is still unknown.

"We recognize that for some of our fans this will delay some of the improvements they were anticipating but we think the biggest thing we can do for them is give them a successful football program and this facility will allow us to do that sooner," Whitman said during a 1-on-1 interview Tuesday afternoon.

And for Whitman, the sooner the better.

Football and men's basketball are the bread winners for the university.  It helps that Illinois is expected to get an extra $10-$15 million dollars this year in the Big Ten's TV revenue sharing deal.  It's money that Whitman can use to strengthen facilities for those two key revenue sports.  The UI has been operating in the red for the last 3-4 years.

"We make all of our money through football and men's basketball and so the untapped resource that's out there is unsold seats in Memorial Stadium, and unsold seats at State Farm Center," Whitman said. "You get the gate revenue, you get merchandise, you get concessions, you get parking, you get private donations, all those things come when those two sports are successful."

And when they're successful, all the the other Illini sports use that to their benefit.  Whitman said he hopes to build new stadiums or upgrade facilities for baseball, track and field, women's soccer, swimming and even the basketball practice facility.

"It's a means to an end," added Whitman. "We want those programs to be successful for a lot of reasons but at the end of the day a very practical reason is that it provides us the financial means to be sure that our other student athletes have what they need in order to compete at the same level."


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