- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - The University of Illinois made it official Wednesday, confirming reports that former Illini football player Josh Whitman is the school’s new athletic director.

The 37-year-old Whitman moves from the same job at Division III Washington University in St. Louis. He inherits a long list of problems at Illinois, from allegations that a now-former football coach interfered with player medical decisions to a lawsuit over the treatment of women’s basketball players.

But Whitman, who has a bachelor’s degree and law degree from Illinois, called the move a “dream come true.”

“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,” he said in a news release. A news conference is planned for Thursday on campus to introduce Whitman.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, who will be Whitman’s boss until a permanent chancellor is hired, praised his leadership and accomplishments.

“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.

And Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany called Whitman “well-respected, very bright” and someone who, “as an alum, knows what it means to be a member of the Fighting Illini.”

Whitman was a starting tight end on Illinois football teams from 1997-2000 and worked for several years in the department he will now run. Before moving to Washington University, he served as AD at another Division III school, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The man who hired him there, Chancellor Joe Gow, said Wednesday that, in spite of his age and lack of experience running a larger athletic department, Whitman is a good choice to take over a department facing serious issues.

“He has incredible integrity, so he understood very well what we’re about, that it’s not win at all costs,” Gow said. “He really emphasized those values.”

Whitman takes over for Mike Thomas, who was fired in November after the series of problems in the football and women’s basketball programs.

Thomas fired football coach Tim Beckman for allegedly interfering in player medical decisions and pressuring players to play hurt. Beckman has denied those accusations.

Seven former women’s basketball players have accused coach Matt Bollant and a former staff member of creating a racially hostile atmosphere in an ongoing lawsuit. A law firm hired by the university found no evidence that Bollant had done anything wrong.

Whitman will also have to deal with the losing football record over the past four seasons, and the struggles of the men’s basketball team. Coach John Groce’s team is in danger of missing a third straight NCAA Tournament.

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