Illinois fires AD Mike Thomas after misconduct report released
The University of Illinois has fired athletic director Mike Thomas following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the football and women’s basketball programs, the school announced Monday.
According to the investigative report, Thomas did not participate in any misconduct and was not found in violation of policies or standards. However, Illinois interim chancellor Barbara Wilson said the school believed a change in leadership was necessary. Thomas will receive a $2.5 million buyout.
“Mike Thomas has done a good job of leading through recent challenges,” Wilson said in a statement. “Decisions such as these are always difficult, but we have to focus on the best interests of our student-athletes. I believe this decision allows everyone to move forward.”
Illinois opened an internal investigation in May at Thomas’s request after allegations of misconduct against the two programs were made public. The full report, which was released Monday, included a review of more than 200,000 documents and 100 interviews with players, former players, coaches and medical and athletic staff.
The preliminary findings of the report led to former football coach Tim Beckman being fired after he was accused of forcing players to play through injuries. The report released Monday concluded that Beckman had violated sports medicine protocols and scholarships standards.
In May, two former football players said Beckman abused his power by encouraging players not to report their injuries, and then “harassed” some players about vacating their scholarships if they could not play. “They were trying to corner him and tell him, ‘You’re injured, so you need to sign this letter so we can use this spot for someone else,” said Willis North, father of former defensive back Nick North, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Women’s basketball players also accused coaches of pressuring them to play through illness and injuries, but the report did not find that the coaches acted inappropriately.
Shortly after the football allegations surfaced, the families of three women’s basketball players brought forth allegations of verbal and emotional abuse by head coach Matt Bollant and sexual inappropriateness by now former associate coach Mike Divilbiss. Seven players went on to file a $10 million racial discrimination lawsuit on the grounds that the coaches used racially derogatory language toward African-American players and considered having separate practices for those players.
Thomas had served as the athletic director at Illinois since 2011. Senior associate athletic director Paul Kowalczyk has been named interim athletic director.
“I understand the chancellor’s viewpoint that my continued presence may create an ongoing distraction for our students, coaches and staff, and I accept the situation,” Thomas said in a statement. “It has been my privilege to be part of this storied program and this great university. I will always cherish my time at this institution and in this community.”
The university will hold a press conference at noon ET on Monday to discuss the full results of the investigation.
- Erin Flynn