University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas: exclusive interview

University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas: exclusive interview

University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas was in Chicago recently to discuss the overhaul to the home of Illini basketball and the Fighting Illini kicking off versus the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field on Sept. 14. The new website for Assembly Hall renovations was launched a few days ago with the brand name “Illinois Renaissance.” Two big changes to Assembly Hall were revealed recently at a press conference in Chicago: the building will finally have air conditioning, and Hall naming rights are now up for sale.

So who should the new corporate sponsor be? Comment below.

And check out the cool artist rendition of the new Assembly Hall. And the neat CGI video of the finished product here.

I had an exclusive with Director of Illini athletics Mike Thomas, and we covered a lot of topics pertaining to this.


PAUL M. BANKS: So tell me where does the Orange Krush student section fit in with the new plans? It looks like it will be similar to the Izzone at Michigan State or the Cameron Crazies at Duke

MIKE THOMAS: They’ll be behind both baskets, but they’re also in front too. Orange Krush seating will increase to 1,200 from 700. Much as you alluded to with Michigan State, or Pitt does a good job with that, our students will be right behind our team bench along the length of the floor.


PAUL M. BANKS: And the clubs/suites?

MIKE THOMAS: We have six suites on each side of the clubs for a total of twelve. We have over 80 loges, a loge the way we define it, is a four person mini-suite. We have 120 courtside seats.


PAUL M. BANKS: And what about the press? Right now the rows of media seats are behind one another, in the new design will they be staggered/elevated?

MIKE THOMAS: We haven’t defined where press row is going to be yet, but it’s not going to be in section A or section B. We haven’t determined where the media is going to be but it will be elevated, and it won’t be at floor level.


PAUL M. BANKS: I see the Final Four years will decorate the entrances…

MIKE THOMAS: The graphics are a little bit fluid, we’ll do a lot with graphics, but the facility will reflect our history. Not just our basketball history, but also in our concourse we will do a piece that reflects each of our 19 sports. We’ll have two grand entrances, the one on the west side will have a Hall of Fame which we currently do not have. The east side will be more geared towards recruiting and they’ll both look a lot different than they do today.


PAUL M. BANKS: Tell me again about the club for the student section

MIKE THOMAS: I don’t know if there’s any other school in their respective arena that has dedicated space for their student organization. The Orange Krush will have their own club which they can use on basketball game night, to socialize or whatever postgame, halftime or pregame. They can use it the rest of the year as well for activities they want to use it for.


Switching gears to football, the Illini are hoping to play in Chicago at Soldier Field in possibly alternating years; when they don’t play at Northwestern. This will be a huge boost for recruiting. Not only because it will increase visibility in the Chicago area, but it also gives future Illini players a chance to play in an NFL venue.

As part of the Chicago Homecoming festivities, there will be tailgating and a special Chicago-style Street Fest area located just outside Soldier Field for fans and alumni to take in the home of the Chicago Bears. As the Illini borrow the Bears home for a day, remember the Bears borrowed the Illini home, Memorial Stadium for 2002 while Soldier Field was being renovated.

“The Illini football game at Soldier Field in September will be an outstanding opportunity for our fans and alumni to experience a game at one of the nation’s iconic football venues,” Mike Thomas said.

“We’ll bring as much tradition and Illini game-day atmosphere as possible to the Windy City as we celebrate a Chicago Homecoming. I have no doubt this will be a very memorable day for fans of all ages.”

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports, an author and regular contributor to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, and Walter Football.

Banks has appeared on Comcast SportsNet and the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)

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