The University of Illinois is pressing pause on the addition of a men’s hockey team.
According to The Champaign News-Gazette, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said Monday that the Big Ten university in Champaign has indefinitely postponed the announcement of a hockey program.
“We were bracing and preparing for a big announcement as early as next month,” Whitman said. “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.”
The process began with an NHL-funded feasibility study in 2017. The study determined that Champaign could be a successful home to a hockey program. Illinois was on the verge of making that a reality until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the NCAA’s winter championships and spring sports — severely impacting revenues across college sports.
“We were really close on the hockey thing,” Whitman said, noting that there have been other challenges over the past three years and the athletic department hope’s Illinois hockey is only being put on a short-term pause. “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."
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According to the Chicago Tribune, the state of Illinois doesn't have a Division I hockey team despite producing the fourth-most college hockey players of any state. The Tribune also reported that Illinois lost a projected $2 million to $2.5 million due to the canceled Big Ten and NCAA men's basketball tournaments. Illinois had partnered with local businesses, investors and the government to work on a $100 million arena that could also house gymnastics, wrestling and women's volleyball.
“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," Whitman said, according to The News-Gazette. 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 remain committed and capable of the support necessary to get it done.”