CHAMPAIGN – While the State Farm Center renovation schedule is not changing, the University of Illinois now acknowledges that the Illini men’s and women’s basketball teams are to be displaced from their home court for several games in November of 2015.
The Illini men are looking to find a new, temporary home for one exhibition game and four "home" non-conference regular-season games to be played in November of 2015 before the premium seating and lower bowl of the arena are ready for use by Dec. 1.
“Some of those early-season home games will have to be moved,” confirmed Kent Brown, Illinois associate athletics director, media relations. “We’ve been looking at sites around the state that will accommodate some men’s games and we’re going to have some women’s games, too.”
Brown said the $165 million renovation project, which is being completed in six phases over three years, is on schedule but has always faced a tough timeline as it nears the end of Phase 4, which continues until Dec. 1, 2015.
“Everyone understands that was going to be a challenge, even with construction crews working extra-long days," said Brown. "They need all the time possible to take out what we now call Section A and B while putting in all the premium seating.”
Brown said Jason Lener, executive senior associate athletics director, is investigating a variety of venues for size, availability and location.
Huff Hall is not in play for the men’s team, but Brown said it could be a possibility women’s games, depending on the needs of the Illini volleyball team, which is the priority sport for that building.
Brown also said the university would adjust the 2015-16 season ticket package and associated costs. Then tickets at an off-campus venue would be made available, likely using the I-Fund priority points system to first accommodate donors and season ticket holders.
Several venues already are being talked about, although not all of the obvious choices are necessarily likely.
One of those is the United Center in Chicago, where Illinois already plays an annual game, generally in December. The United Center is probably too big for early-season non-conference games that aren’t traditionally big draws. Last season, for instance, Illinois’ home non-conference opponents were Alabama State, Jacksonville State, Valparaiso, Bradley, Chicago State and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.
Another obvious consideration would be Redbird Arena in Normal (capacity 10,200), home of the Illinois State University basketball team. But sources say that may not be a strong bet.
Other venues that would seem to be of an appropriate size include the Peoria Civic Center (capacity 11,060), Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates (10,000) and BMO Bank Center in Rockford (9,000).
The Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield is a bit smaller at 7,000-plus but could be a consideration. The U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington is a centrally located arena that could seat close to 8,000 for basketball.
It was thought that Illinois might choose this season to play one of its exhibition games on the road. But this situation brings into play another option for a second exhibition game.
Illinois could play another Division I program, so long as the game is an unadvertised scrimmage closed to the public and the media. That’s something Illini head coach John Groce would have to arrange with a willing head coach.
That type of “game” could be played at Illinois’ Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, across the street from the State Farm Center.
That said, exhibition games have always generated revenue for Illini basketball so a decision would need to be reached to take that out of the equation for a year.
Assuming the renovation stays on schedule, the teams would return to the State Farm Center on Dec. 1, which means a possible first men’s home game that season would be the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.