Big Ten

Illini make it official: Josh Whitman is new athletics director


Illini make it official: Josh Whitman is new athletics director

Illinois made it official Wednesday, announcing Josh Whitman as the school's new athletics director.

It was widely reported Tuesday night that Whitman would be named the successor to Mike Thomas, who departed his post as athletics director back in November. The months-long search, which was at times described as dysfunctional, has now come to an end.

Whitman will be introduced Thursday and is expected to start on March 21.

Whitman is an Illinois alumnus and a former member of the Illini football team, starting as a tight end for four seasons. He also worked in various capacities inside the athletics department at Illinois during his time in law school, which followed a four-year professional career in the NFL. He has both a bachelor's degree and a law degree from Illinois.

“It is a dream come true for me to return to my alma mater as the next director of athletics,” Whitman said in the university's announcement. “With strong leadership, a bold vision, daring integrity and an unparalleled commitment from a unified and active Illini Nation, together we can build an athletics program befitting our great institution. I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, President (Tim) Killeen, Chancellor (Barbara) Wilson and Illini everywhere for their trust and faith in me. I will work tirelessly to achieve our goals. The future is bright for the Illini."

In addition to his ties to Illinois, Whitman has worked as an athletics director at a pair of Division-III institutions, most recently at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to that, he worked as athletics director at Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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“He understands the business of modern college athletics, but he hasn’t lost any of the sense of fun and joy that should be part of amateur sports,” Wilson said of Whitman in the announcement. “At Illinois we want to compete hard, act with integrity and give our student-athletes the kind of positive experiences that stay with them throughout their lives and careers. If you want to see what that looks like, you just have to look at the leadership and accomplishments of Josh Whitman.”

“Josh is well-respected, very bright, and as an alum, knows what it means to be a member of the Fighting Illini,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the announcement. “He will be a terrific addition to the university and the conference, and we look forward to working with him.”

Whitman steps into a job with many challenges. Last year, the Illinois athletics department was under siege, with multiple programs dealing with allegations of student-athlete mistreatment. While no evidence was found to support allegations that the women's basketball program created an "environment of racial hostility," an investigation into the football program supported allegations that former head coach Tim Beckman mistreated his players. Thomas fired Beckman a week before the season started, and when more details from that investigation came out in early November, Thomas was out, too.

On top of those issues, the two highest-profile programs — football and men's basketball — have struggled in recent seasons. Illinois' football team has made just one bowl game in the past four seasons, and the Illinois men's basketball team under head coach John Groce is expected to miss the NCAA tournament for the third straight season. The future of both programs' head coaches is hardly crystal clear. Interim athletics director Paul Kowalczyk gave head football coach Bill Cubit — who worked as the interim coach from Beckman's firing until the final game of the season — just a two-year contract, seen by most observers as a poor decision that could negatively impact recruiting efforts.

But surely Illinois finally settling on a successor to Thomas has to be seen as a positive, finally getting someone in place on a permanent basis.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.