Illinois ‘still in very active conversations’ about adding NCAA hockey sooner than later

 (photo: Joe Connor)
Illinois fans are a passionate bunch and proudly wear the Illini colors at the team’s ACHA games each season (photo: Joe Connor).

Illinois has been looked at as a school that may be adding NCAA hockey in the future.

A 2017 feasibility study that wrapped in 2018 proved it could work.

Two years later, Illinois is still on track to make hockey work, even with the COVID-19 outbreak putting the brakes on some of the planning.

“Candidly, we were bracing and preparing for a big announcement as early as next month,” Illinois athletic Josh Whitman told the News-Gazette. “We felt like we had put everything in the order that we needed. We had all the partners around the table. We had a good, solid plan to move it forward. Then, of course, everything changed.”

With all NCAA sports paused for the spring season, that also means new sports coming to various campuses are also at a standstill.

“We were really close on the hockey thing,” Whitman said. “I think we continue to remain very excited about the project and very optimistic about its future — particularly the impact it would have on our community. There are some people who have suggested it could be a very helpful re-ignition to Champaign-Urbana and to helping our economy come back online following the pandemic.

“We’re going to continue to monitor it. We’re still in very active conversations with all the different partners who have come around the table to help move that forward. I’m hopeful that’s a short-term pause and not a long-term no.”

Whitman added that he planned on announcing hockey for the school as early as last month.

By the middle of 2019, Whitman said Illinois had come close in several instances to making the sport official at Illinois.

“We had some other key partners I think come into line the last several months that gave us a lot of confidence that we were going to be able to move this forward,” Whitman said. “I think that we’re now in the process of reconnecting with all those partners. We’ve had a couple conference calls to see where everybody’s at in light of this new environment. By and large, most people and most organizations remain very comfortable with this new situation.

“There are a couple other entities that are also kind of seeing how this is going to play out in terms of their own financial picture. It made it evident it was wisest for all of us to take a short pause here and make sure each of the different entities remains committed and capable of the support necessary to get it done.”