The University of Illinois has been mulling the possibility of adding men’s hockey to its lineup of varsity sports for some time, and at a virtual town hall for alums held on Monday night, athletic director Josh Whitman suggested that the goal is in sight.
“We’re in the red zone, for sure,” Whitman said, according to the Champaign News-Gazette. “We’re getting closer to the goal line. Every day, we gain a couple inches, a yard on a good day. … we’re committed to doing everything we can to make it happen and hope to have good news in the not-too-distant future.”
The school conducted a feasibility study for adding the sport in 2018, and suggested that an Illini men’s hockey team could have an inaugural season as early as the 2020-21 school year. It also recommended a new facility, which would be built in downtown Champaign. The facility would likely also support existing varsity teams, including volleyball, wrestling, and men’s and women’s gymnastics.
“What I’ve learned is that hockey is a big deal in the state of Illinois — up in Chicago in particular and down in the St. Louis region,” Whitman said on Monday. “We have the sixth-highest youth hockey participation rate of any state in the country. And it’s not just quantity, it’s quality.
“We have the fourth-most Division I hockey players coming out of the state of Illinois of any state in the country but we have zero Division I hockey players. So we think there’s a great opportunity there for us to fill that void.”
Currently, the Big Ten hockey conference includes Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.