By Sean McDevitt
Change has been the only constant during the last few years in college athletics.
From the COVID-19 pandemic to Name, Image, and Likeness to the transfer portal to conference realignments, the changing landscape of college athletics is moving at breakneck speed. Major court cases such as NCAA v. Alston and Johnson v. NCAA are challenging the future of the industry.
The roadmap may be unclear, but University of Illinois Athletics Director Josh Whitman’s steady hand at the wheel has kept the athletic program moving forward and, in many ways, prospering.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected college athletics just as keenly as it affected the rest of the world. From cancellations of major sporting events like the NCAA Basketball Tournament to student-athletes playing in front of essentially empty stands, collegiate athletic programs took hit after hit. For some, the cost was tremendous.
At last month’s media roundtable, when Whitman explained the department’s $14 million deficit due to the pandemic as “doing well,” he wasn’t speaking out of turn. Many of his peer programs experienced much larger shortfalls.
Even though a plan is in place to repay the deficit, projects were affected. For example, a project championed by Whitman was indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic: Division I Hockey. During the pandemic, costs had ballooned by 30%, and while it was a difficult decision, Whitman decided it wasn’t time.
“We invested an incredible amount of time, energy and resources into cultivating that project,” said Whitman. “It was very fulfilling in a lot of different ways and made it very difficult to pull the plug on that. My heart said yes. My head said we shouldn’t do it. At least not right now.”
The NIL Landscape
Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) is the most significant new advancement in the student-athlete experience.