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Mar. 8—CHAMPAIGN — One of the most coveted jobs in sports is about to have an opening: Big Ten Commissioner.
Josh Whitman realizes this.
But the Illinois athletic director is more than content with the job he holds at his alma mater.
"This is the only job I've ever aspired to have," the 44-year-old Whitman said on Monday evening at the Esquire Lounge during a radio appearance on 'Monday Night SportsTalk,' on WDWS 1400-AM and 93.9-FM.
Kevin Warren will depart from his current role as Big Ten Commissioner this spring to assume his new job as president and CEO of the Chicago Bears. Leaving a vacancy for someone to fill in becoming only the league's seventh commissioner in its history.
It's a powerful position that, before Warren, was held for almost 50 years by just two men: Wayne Duke from 1971-89 and Jim Delany from 1989-2020.
And it's a position Whitman doesn't appear, at least publicly, to have an interest in pursuing at the moment.
"The commissioner's job is an incredibly important position," Whitman said. "It's not something I've ever given a lot of thought to. There's a lot of important decisions that person will ultimately help determine. But being here and having a chance to be a part of this program is the most rewarding experience I've ever had in my life."
Whitman — a former Illinois tight end who played for coach Ron Turner from 1997-2000 — said he didn't fully understand what a college athletic director entailed until the West Lafayette, Ind., native arrived in Champaign-Urbana to begin his college career.
"When I was roughly 20 years old, I came to the University of Illinois and I realized for the first time what a college athletic director did," Whitman said. "I didn't know there was such a person. I didn't really understand the foundation that operates behind the football program or the basketball program or the soccer team. From that day forward, all I've ever wanted to do was be the athletic director at the University of Illinois."
Whitman achieved that goal in March 2016. He recently celebrating his seven-year anniversary holding the position after previous stops as an athletic director at Division III schools Washington University in St. Louis and Wisconsin-La Crosse before landing at the position he's always coveted.
"It's funny. I actually didn't even look at the calendar and realize that," Whitman said. "It's one of those things, and when you find the right professional opportunity, on one hand, it feels like seven years has gone by in the span of seven days. On the other hand, it's almost hard for me to remember what I did before I was here."
The Big Ten presidents are ultimately running the search for the next conference commissioner. Whitman, like others, is eager to see who they select for the noteworthy position.
"The Big Ten has a very strong tradition and a very strong sense of identity," Whitman said. "I think it's important that we find people who embrace that tradition and understand that identity. We are coming into and have been in a really critical juncture in the history of college athletics. There are a lot of incredibly challenging issues on the horizon. They all intertwine with one another. Finding a really sophisticated thinker and strong leader is incredibly important for us.
"I have all the confidence in the presidents that will do that and look forward to learning who our new leader will be."