Will we see an eighth member of the Big Ten hockey conference in the near future? According to Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman, the answer is yes – with a catch.

In an interview with the Champaign News-Gazette and other Illinois media on Tuesday, Whitman said the school came close to announcing that it’s adding Division I men’s hockey within the past six weeks, but details still need to be worked out.

“There have been a few things that have popped up at the 11th hour ... where I felt it best to hit the pause button and push things back,’’ Whitman told the News-Gazette. “There have been a few key partnerships that we haven’t been able to finalize quite yet.’’

Illinois hopes to have construction of a multipurpose arena in downtown Champaign finished by the fall of 2022 and begin play as a Big Ten member that season. The Illini currently play at the club level. The move to Division I could result in a period in which they play as an independent – as Penn State did in the 2012-13 season before it began Big Ten play.

“I would expect we would go through something similar, when and if we’re in a position to do that,’’ Whitman said.

An interesting twist that Whitman revealed is that if Illinois added a varsity men’s hockey team, the athletic department still would comply with Title IX regarding equal opportunities for men and women in college athletics. “We would still be substantially proportionate to the rate at which men and women enroll as undergraduates here,’’ Whitman said, pointing to work with outside consultants on the issue.

Whitman’s original assumption was that adding men’s hockey would require adding a women’s sport or dropping a men’s sport. He said adding a women’s sport could happen in the future but likely not in the short term.

For now, Illinois adding varsity men’s hockey is still a work in progress. It’s close but not quite there yet.

“We’ve got some big questions still to answer before we say, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this.’ ’’ Whitman said.

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