After a five-year process, Illinois announced today that it will no longer pursue Division I hockey.
Prior to the pandemic, it seemed like an announcement would be coming soon that Illinois would add hockey and join the Big Ten. There were even rumors of an announcement around the 2020 Frozen Four in Detroit, which never took place.
“This is a painful decision, made all the more difficult because of the incredible commitment shown by so many to make hockey a reality,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement.
The school said that arena costs were up 30 percent. Also, the unknown future of Division I forced the school to change course.
“Since we began our exploration of hockey years ago, meaningful landscape changes have pushed us to this unfortunate conclusion," Whitman said. "We have stated repeatedly that we would not advance the hockey project without a sound funding and financial plan. To date, we have been unable to generate the financial support necessary to greenlight the project — a concern that grew even more daunting through the pandemic. ...
"In addition, as has been well documented, college athletics is now existing in an incredibly fluid, dynamic environment, including Alston awards, NIL, and student-athlete employment rights. We are investing heavily in new benefits for student-athletes, which increases the marginal cost associated with any new sport offerings. Such intense disruption has created ambiguity about the future, and we believe it unwise for Illinois Athletics to expand our sport model in such an uncertain environment.
"We believe the interest in hockey and the opportunity for the sport to succeed here is very real," Whitman continued. "You never say never in this business, and if the right opportunity were to present itself down the road, we would always be willing to reconsider. That said, due to other programmatic priorities and needs, we can no longer allocate human and financial resources toward the ongoing pursuit of this project. My heart believes that we can support hockey, but my head tells me it is time to direct our attention elsewhere. We must continue the upward momentum that Illinois Athletics has created in recent years, and that will require the focused energy of our staff and our community in the years ahead.
"We have long championed the addition of hockey as an opportunity to address needs in our sports of volleyball, wrestling, and gymnastics. As a result, we have delayed other potential investments in those sports while we continued our pursuit of hockey and the downtown facility it would require. In recent months, as the odds of adding hockey have diminished, various opportunities to advance some of these other sports have developed. We are now choosing to pursue those opportunities, which effectively minimizes some of the intended value of the downtown facility to DIA."