Ex-Illinois women's basketball players file $10 million lawsuit

Seven former Illinois women’s basketball players filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the university on Wednesday.
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Seven former Illinois women’s basketball players filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the university on Wednesday.

The lawsuit, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, also names school's Board of Trustees as a defendant, with the players alleging that head coach Matt Bollant and former assistant Mike Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment.

This includes allegations of coaches holding segregated practices, calling black players “crabs” and describing them as “undisciplined” and “unintelligent” and using harsher discipline on black players as compared to white players, according to the lawsuit.

In May, the Tribune reported that the families of three Illinois women's basketball players alleged verbal and emotional abuse by Bollant and “sexual inappropriateness” by Divilbiss. In letters sent to athletic director Mike Thomas and others, the families alleged that Bollant and Divilbiss threatened to pull scholarships, used racism to try and divide the team and ignored players' injuries.

Divilbiss has since left the program. A week after the report, the university commissioned an independent investigation to review its own examination of alleged player mistreatment in the Illini women's basketball program.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a statement that it was "disappointing" that a lawsuit was filed before university had a chance to investigate the allegations.

"I cannot stress enough that anytime we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn't excellent, we take those concerns seriously," Wise said. "We intended that through the external review process the student-athletes and their families would help us better understand their concerns and perceptions.

"As we await the results of the review, (Thomas) has already added staff to closely monitor team activities and has implemented additional ways for student-athletes to report any concerns they have."

Earlier in May, former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic accused football head coach Tim Beckman of forcing him to play through injuries and other forms of abuse. According to the Tribune, former soccer player Casey Conine brought a separate lawsuit against the university in the last month, alleging the coaching and medical staff mishandled a concussion she sustained.

- Molly Geary and Scooby Axson