Illinois women's basketball probe finds no discrimination, mistreatment

An independent report found alleged mistreatment by Illinois women's basketball coaches unfounded.
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An external investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse and racism against players by Illinois women’s associate basketball coaches Matt Bollant and Mike Divilbiss found that the two coaches did not constitute racial discrimination or harassment on the players, the University of Illinois announced Monday.

The school said the investigation, conducted by the Chicago law firm of Pugh, Jones & Johnson, took six weeks, during which 33 coaches, players, Division of Intercollegiate Athletics administrators and team supporters were interviewed. The investigators also reviewed 18,000 documents, including statements of eight players provided by their lawyers.

The report said no player made any complaints about racism until the end of the 2014-15 season, and that complaints started to escalate after the team was blown out by Rutgers in February and endured a seven-game losing streak during the season. 

Three of the players’ parents sent letters to the school chancellor Phyllis Wise and athletic director Mike Thomas in April, claiming that Bollant and Divilbiss “created racial tension among players by derogatorily noting the race of Illini players and opponents and attributing racial stereotypes to each.”

“We find any allegations troubling, because they don’t reflect our values,” Wise said in a statement. “Student-athletes are part of our Illinois family, and we want to ensure that their experiences are fulfilling, and that they are able to work toward an Illinois degree and prepare for lives of leadership and impact.”

The letters also alleged that several black players were referred to by current staff members as “crabs,” and that other coaches held separate practices for African-American players.

The report said that the extra practices “were not punitive” and designed for players who saw less than 20 minutes of action in the previous game.

The school also said that there was “broad evidence” of harsh language, but the “language, tone, and volume of criticism were not disproportionately directed at African American players.”

The report acknowledged that Divilbiss “treated players harshly in a number of incidents,” but found no evidence of him treating players differently because of their race. Divilbiss resigned from his position in May.

In the 226-page report, the school recommended that Illinois clarify expectations for coaches’ conduct, define relationships between coaches and parents and enhance “resources for student-athletes to report concerns or complaints about their experience at Illinois.”

Earlier this month, seven former Illinois women's basketball players filed a $10 million federal lawsuit alleging that Bollant and Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment. Thomas was also named in the lawsuit.

“Going forward, we must ensure that our coaches and staff members have a clearer understanding of our core values and expectations, and that our student-athletes never ever feel they have nowhere to go when they have concerns,” Wise said.

- Scooby Axson