CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman says his department was operating at about a $6.2 million deficit in 2016, with both revenue and spending figures ranking in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
Whitman delivered a presentation Monday to the university's Senate Executive Committee, where he provided an overview of the athletic department as a whole, the News-Gazette reported. He addressed various topics including generating more revenue, improving state pride in the program, competing in the upper division of the Big Ten, scrutiny on athletes and the lack of a university mascot.
He said Illinois generated $91.6 million in revenue in 2016 while spending $97.8 million. In the Big Ten that year, the 14 other departments generated an average of $113 million while spending $109 million.
"Our biggest source of untapped revenue right now is you see 20,000 empty seats in our football stadium and 5,000 empty seats in the basketball arena, and that represents ticket revenue, concessions, parking, private donations, merchandise," Whitman said. "There's probably $10-$15 million in revenue per year that we're leaving on the table by not having the success that we need in those two priority spots."
He added that a challenge for Illinois is to eventually compete with Ohio State and Michigan without outspending them.
"When they have a problem, candidly they are able to throw money at it in a way that we can't. What we have to do is [be] better," Whitman said. "We have to hire better people. We have to come up with a better plan and execute that plan in a better way than they do. That's our strategy. Our secret weapon is our people."
Illinois athletics have been on a tumultuous ride over the past two years. Football coach Tim Beckman was fired in 2015 after allegations of mistreatment of players. Bill Cubit stepped in as coach but was not retained. Whitman hired former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, who went 3-9 in 2016, his first season.
Matt Bollant, who had one winning season in five years and was sued two years ago for allegedly abusing players, was fired as the women's basketball coach last month. Whitman made the announcement three days after he fired men's basketball coach John Groce, whose team went 20-15 and failed to make the NCAA tournament.