Illinois Taking Break From Annual Hoops Game At United Center
The Univ. of Illinois will not play a regular-season men's basketball game at United Center this coming season "for the first time since 1994," though the move is "not a permanent goodbye," according to Joey Wagner of the Decatur HERALD & REVIEW. UI AD Josh Whitman indicated that the "expansion of the Big Ten basketball schedule to a 20-game schedule and multiple-team events such as the Gavitt Games and the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, left fewer openings on the schedule." Wagner notes another factor is the "dwindling attendance" for the game. Only 5,285 fans came out in December to see Ohio State-Illinois, a number that "certainly would have been much higher had the game been played at the State Farm Center in Champaign." Whitman: "This isn't a goodbye. We'll be back at the United Center for a regular season game. It's not that we'll never play there again; we certainly will. We want to let it breathe a little bit and let people remember what was so special about playing in the United Center and hopefully bringing some of the shine back to that place and our games up there" (Decatur HERALD & REVIEW, 6/19). The first United Center game in '94 drew 21,500 to see Duke-Illinois, but that is more than what UI "has drawn combined in each of its last three games" at the arena (Champaign NEWS-GAZETTE, 6/19).
HOCKEY STILL IN THE PLANS: In Chicago, Shannon Ryan reports UI is still planning to add a men's hockey team. Whitman said that the school is "financially capable of supporting the sport." He noted that he has been "close to announcing the sport's addition 'several times,' but last-minute issues arose." Whitman said that UI "hopes to own a multipurpose rink in the downtown Champaign-Urbana area that is built on donated land." The arena would cost more than $100M, while the team "would need an operating budget" of $3M (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/19). UI "hopes to announce the program, build the arena and have a staff in place so the team can begin play in 2022" (Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 6/19).