She can tell you the names and signals for all the plays. She can tell you how to get to Sesame Street. She’s a White Sox fan with a dog named Wrigley. She’s Bobbi Busboom, Assistant AD for Development Operations at the University of Illinois.
Bobbi Busboom is home. The graduate of St. Joseph-Ogden High School in central Illinois with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois (the only college she was accepted into because it was the only college to which she applied) has worked in athletics full-time for the University of Illinois since 2008, for the family legacy since birth.
When one asks her what she does and has done for University of Illinois Athletics, one quickly realizes it would’ve been easier to ask what she doesn’t do and hasn’t done. She’s been a recruiting coordinator for the football team and a coach’s assistant, as well as worked for the Director of Football Operations.
In her current role, her primary responsibility can be summed up as supporting the athletic department’s development officers with everything they need to fundraise, a perfect role for someone who has relationships with all of the university’s most influential donors. Her “other duties as assigned” crossover into human resources and a prominent position in the office of the Athletic Director, all the while overseeing all premium seating for Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center, a building that had none until its current renovation.
Bobbi grew up 20 miles down the road from the University of Illinois in Royal in a house where coaching is the family tradition. Her brother coaches basketball, her sister volleyball, following in the legendary footsteps of their father, Dick Duval, who is a member of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame after 28 years and 251 wins as head football coach at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, the place where everything started for Bobbi.
“At heart, she will always be a high school coach’s daughter,” says Dustin Boyer, Bobbi’s colleague and Director of Premium Seating Operations for University of Illinois Athletics.
Do you have a favorite memory of your father and being around his teams growing up?
We started a tradition when I was in the eighth grade. I was in an accelerated algebra class, and he was my teacher. Yes, he was also my math teacher. There was no getting away. We started this tradition of going to breakfast every Friday morning of football season. Even through college, we continued that tradition every Friday morning of football season until they lost the last game in the playoffs.
We even had one year where we made it to the state championship, and our state championships are on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, so the restaurant that we went to opened up on Thanksgiving Day for us to have breakfast.
Was there a good luck menu item that you had to order?
So a little fact about my dad is he is the most superstitious guy you’ll ever meet. So whatever we ordered the first week, we had to order the rest of the season. So you better pick a good menu item that first week.
In fact, he expected you to order what you did the year before. I did the one egg scrambled and toast. As an eighth grader, that was plenty, but that wasn’t a lot to eat as I got older. But I continued my one egg scrambled and toast until the last year.
How much luck did that one egg scrambled and toast bring to the team over the years?
He went to five state championships. He never got the title, but he had a lot of success, and we are certainly proud of him.
He hung up his whistle last season. It was a fun season because I had my first daughter last August. So without her knowing, she got to experience it, and we got plenty of Spartan pictures on the football field with grandpa.
“I ended up working with the running backs and had the opportunity when Ron Turner was here to chart the offense.”
So why the University of Illinois? Was it a birthright to go to school there?
In high school, I always knew that I wanted to come to the University of Illinois and would do whatever it took to get there. In fact, I foolishly only applied to one school, and thankfully I got in. I knew right away that I had to get involved with athletics. I didn’t want that part of my life to go away.
When I was a freshman, I volunteered as a recruiter, which meant I did facility tours and hosted future football student-athletes on gameday. I did that for a year and then asked around about what other opportunities there were in the football department. Not a lot of females do that.
I ended up working with the running backs and had the opportunity when Ron Turner was here to chart the offense. I stood behind Ron Turner and listened to his play calls and charted the results of each of the plays. I learned all the signals that the quarterbacks gave from the sideline. That was an awesome experience for me.
It doesn’t sound like the apple fell too far from the tree. With that experience and with your pedigree, did you ever think about getting into coaching?
Not really. I like the behind-the-scenes part of it, which is what led me in the direction of football operations. I interned with the Director of Football Operations as part of my undergrad program. That kind of became my dream job to be the Director of Football Operations.
After Ron Zook replaced Ron Turner as head coach in 2005, Zook hired Bobbi to a full-time position in recruiting, a job that took her all the way to the Rose Bowl in 2008.
Now on the development side of the athletic department, Bobbi has witnessed a similar energy in 2016 with the recent hiring of new Athletic Director Josh Whitman, a former Illinois football player and trusted member of the Illinois family. Just days after assuming the position, Whitman hired former Chicago Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith. Dubbed internally as the “Lovie Effect”, the athletic department has experienced an immediate impact on donations, ticket sales, and premium sales.
How has the transition to a new, well-known coach gone?
It’s been great to see people’s excitement again. We went through a period where it was tough to sell tickets, to get people excited about Illinois football. This brought everyone together again.
What are your specific responsibilities in your current role in the athletic department?
I’ve changed roles in the last year. But premium seating is still what I hold dearest. When we renovated Memorial Stadium nine years ago, we built that premium seating from the ground up in terms of its operations – where were we going to put staff, what food were we going to serve, what does gameday feel like. It was one of those experiences where you pour your blood, sweat, and tears into it. It’s something that we’re very proud of.
At the State Farm Center, we started to come online with premium seating last year. We had things on our mind that we wanted to be different from Memorial Stadium, but for the most part, we were right on with what our donors wanted and expected.
My role now is development operations. I still oversee premium seating at both the State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium. But I now have this hybrid role where I oversee our special events and work with the Athletic Director in his office, coming up with itineraries for big donor asks and donor visits.
The chateau de Busboom is a house divided. It says so right in the garage, where the house banner hangs and reads “A House Divided”. Bobbi a diehard White Sox fan, her husband a Cubs fanatic, the stakes for the nuptial rivalry have only heightened since the birth of their daughter Cameron.
“I have a dog named Wrigley that I pretend is named after the gum. So I can compromise.”
Have there been any friendly wagers or compromises over the years?
I wanted a dog nine or ten years ago, and my husband wasn’t too keen on getting a dog. The agreement was if we named her Wrigley, then we could get a dog. So I have a dog named Wrigley that I pretend is named after the gum. So I can compromise.
The other compromise that I keep trying for is our daughter, who is one-year-old. She is obviously going to be a White Sox fan. He hasn’t quite agreed to that yet. But let’s just say she’s been to one baseball game, and let’s just say it wasn’t on the north side.
So are you or Cameron the bigger fan of Sesame Street?
Oh you did dig deep for this! I pretend that she’s a big fan. She does like it, but I don’t know if that’s from persuasion on my behalf.
Do you think she has a favorite character yet or a favorite character you want her to have?
Cookie Monster. I’m just glad it’s not Elmo. Elmo wasn’t a thing when I was little. I always liked Big Bird. Snuffleupagus is a good one too. How many times do you get to write about Sesame Street in one of these articles?
Well, I have to tell you, it has never come up before, but I’m very excited about it.
This fall, the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois unveiled the final phase of a massive, multi-year renovation. A building that had not a single premium seat now has a comprehensive mix of hospitality offerings.
Twelve 15- to 20-seat suites have been introduced to the arena’s east side. These suites spill into the new Traditions Club, which is also accessible to 1,188 new club seat patrons. An additional club seat product – the Legacy Club – serves 524 seat holders and expands the arena’s premium base with its lower price points and lease terms. Two rows of 60 courtside seats have also been carved out, as has Club 53 that provides these 120 seat holders with the most exclusive access in the building. And last but certainly not least are the 144 loge seats, a brand new premium product for the central Illinois marketplace.
“We’ve gone from nothing to everything. We didn’t have suites or even a club space prior to the renovation.”
Let’s finish up with a few questions about the renovation. As of the completion of this final phase of construction, what is the premium presence in the building now?
We’ve gone from nothing to everything. We didn’t have suites or even a club space prior to the renovation. So we added 12 suites on our east side. And what’s unique about them and something I haven’t seen in other places is the back area of the suite has a ceiling, but when you walk into the seating area, it’s open. For college athletics, how awesome is that to not be enclosed?
It’s hard to explain to people before they are in there. Now the more people we bring in there, the more people are having a wow moment. You really are in the game.
We try to make our customers realize that it’s more than just a ticket to the game. We really focus on customer service to make people feel like this is home. We want to know their names and their grandkid’s names to make this experience at Illinois one of a kind.