Illinois investigation widens from football to women's hoops
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) The law firm investigating player complaints about the Illinois football team has now been asked to look into similar claims involving the women's basketball team, school officials said Tuesday. They say one basketball player's family has threatened legal action.
But as the investigation of potential mishandling of player injuries widened, a spokeswoman for the top official at the campus, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, said Mike Thomas still has the backing of the university.
''I can tell you the university is very supportive of Mike,'' Robin Kaler, the associate chancellor for public affairs, said in an interview on campus with both she and Thomas.
Thomas added that he hasn't been given any reason to believe the allegations involving two separate coaching staffs he supervises might threaten his job.
''Not at all,'' the fourth-year athletic director said. ''I'm confident in how I go about doing this. I've been doing this a long time.''
The families of the basketball players raised concerns about women's coach Matt Bollant and now-former associate head coach Mike Divilbiss in April letters to Wise and Thomas. The allegations came to light this week as news media outlets obtained copies of the letters.
The parents of Jacqui Grant said she was pressured to play through mononucleosis and that a later exam revealed she had an enlarged spleen. Taylor Gleason's family said she was ''forced to play'' with a broken toe.
Grant, who was a starter in her two seasons at Illinois, and Gleason were released from scholarships after the season ended in March to transfer. The third player, Taylor Tuck, graduated this spring. A fourth player, Amarah Coleman, also left after the season to transfer.
Further allegations of bullying by coaches and other concerns, Kaler repeated Tuesday, were reviewed by the university. No violations of either NCAA rules or university policies were found, nor any evidence of legal concerns, she said.
But Kaler said the parents of one basketball player, whom she did not identify, have indicated they may sue.
None of the families responded Tuesday to calls from The Associated Press.
Their allegations surfaced just over a week after former football player Simon Cvijanovic, also a regular starter, accused coach Tim Beckman and his staff of pressuring him to play through injuries and misleading him about the nature of an injury.
On Tuesday, Thomas said he hadn't communicated with the families of the basketball players. He said letters acknowledging the allegations and promising that they would be looked into were sent.
As soon as the allegations were made, Thomas said, he handed them off to the chancellor's office for the review that he wasn't involved in. Kaler said that was by design to insure the allegations were being checked outside the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Detailed findings of that review of nonmedical allegations have not been provided to the players or their parents because of privacy concerns and the threat of litigation, Kaler said.
While Divilbiss has now left his job by what the university calls mutual agreement, neither he nor Bollant was disciplined over the allegations, Thomas added.
''Nothing from the findings in the women's basketball investigation warranted'' that, Thomas said.
Neither Bollant nor Divilbiss has responded to calls from The Associated Press.
Thomas said he hasn't seen allegations similar to those made about the football and women's basketball programs regarding other sports on campus. And he said he doesn't yet know if any changes need to be made in the department he runs based on the women's basketball and football allegations.
''I don't think we'll know that until we have the complete findings of the investigations,'' he said.
How long that will take isn't known. The university has said the investigations of both the football and women's basketball programs will be ''swift and thorough,'' but Kaler noted they could include many interviews. And none of those have been conducted yet.