CHAMPAIGN - Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman earlier this month would not commit to a Dick Butkus statue as part of the $132 million renovation plan for Memorial Stadium.
But on Thursday, Whitman officially announced Illinois will honor Butkus -- and other Illini -- in a different way.
The Illini linebacker legend and Chicago Bears great will be the first inductee into the newly formed University of Illinois athletics Hall of Fame.
"The University of Illinois has an incredible and storied history in athletics," Whitman said in a press release. "Legendary names in sports history are found throughout the Illini record books, and we are excited to honor them in our new Hall of Fame. Since the athletic program's inception in 1890, some of the world's greatest athletes have competed in the Orange and Blue. Ultimately, as we begin to populate the Hall of Fame, our collection of recognized greats will compare favorably with that of any institution in the nation."enhanced fan accessibility and ADA seating."
Butkus will be a part of the inaugural class of inductees. The rest of the class will be announced in February 2017 and will be recognized at a ceremony in Chicago next summer. The official induction ceremony will be held in Champaign-Urbana for the weekend of Sept. 29-30, 2017, when the football team hosts Nebraska in the Big Ten opener
"The University of Illinois has played an extremely important role in my life," Butkus said. in a statement."I have many life-long relationships that began at the U of I and have always been proud to call myself a Fighting Illini. To be recognized in the inaugural class of the Athletics Hall of Fame is a terrific feeling. I'm very proud of what my teams and I accomplished, including the 1963 Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory. Thank you for this honor."
Illinois has not yet predetermined the number of first-year inductees into the Hall of Fame.
"At present, this is not a Hall of Fame meant to house memorabilia, but to recognize the greatest names in Fighting Illini athletics history," the release states. "As we move forward with our master facility plans, we will identify the best location and manner in which to celebrate our Hall of Fame."
Illinois plans to induct new members on an annual basis and will use a private selection committee -- that "will represent many different stakeholders who have broad appreciation for the rich and diverse tradition of Illinois Athletics," Illinois said in a release -- to choose the inductees.
Via an Illinois press release, criteria for Hall of Fame induction is as follows:
"To be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, at least five years must have passed following the completion of a student-athlete's Illinois career. Student-athletes who meet any of the following criteria are automatically nominated for consideration: earning All-America status (by NCAA recognized selectors); winning an individual national or Big Ten championship; repeating as a first- or second-team All-Big Ten honoree; receiving a national award or trophy; holding, at any time, an American or world record (as recognized by proper governing body); member of a professional or collegiate sports hall of fame; qualifying as a U.S. Olympic team member; or earning an Olympic medal for any participating country. Separate criteria will be used for coaches and administrators.
"Based on these criteria, nearly 1,000 former Fighting Illini student-athletes, coaches and administrators are automatically eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. A complete list of those people automatically eligible will be available on FightingIllini.com. The general public is invited to submit additional nominations by using the online form also available on FightingIllini.com. To be considered for inclusion in a particular Hall of Fame class, nominations must be received no later than January 1 of that year. A Hall of Fame committee, whose membership will remain confidential, will review annually the nominations and select each year's induction class."