CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A Chicago law firm hired by the University of Illinois to investigate allegations of racially motivated mistreatment made by former women’s basketball players concluded in a report released Monday that those charges are unfounded.
Seven former players sued the university, coach Matt Bollant, athletic director Mike Thomas and others on July 1, alleging Bollant and some other coaches used race to divide the team and drive players out.
The report from the Pugh, Jones & Johnson law firm acknowledged now-former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss “treated players harshly” and recommended some changes, such as a code of conduct for coaches. But it concluded that complaints from players and parents started after a string of seven losses late in the 2014-15 season and included no real evidence of a racial divide.
“Some athletes and their parents obviously disagreed with the coaches’ judgments about which players most effectively executed their new style of play, but there’s no evidence that the coaches didn’t honestly believe they put the best team on the floor, without consideration of players’ race,” the report concluded.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the top administrator on the Urbana-Champaign campus, said in a statement Monday that she takes the recommendations for changes seriously.
“Going forward, we will 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,” she said.
An attorney for the players didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The players’ lawsuit accuses Bollant and Divilbiss, who are white, of treating black players poorly to try to push them off the team, and doing the same to white players who supported black players. It also accuses them of holding segregated practices known as “the dog pound” for less-favored players, using more severe discipline for black players, barring white and black players from rooming together and using derogatory terms for black players since Bollant was hired in 2012.
Divilbiss left the university in May under what the school has called mutual agreement and has not commented. Bollant has so far declined comment or not responded to numerous requests for comment.
Some current players and their parents have disputed the claims made in the lawsuit.
The basketball lawsuit followed a series of complaints made by former football player Simon Cvijanovic, alleging coach Tim Beckman and some staff members tried to force him to play hurt and that he had been misled about his injuries. Two other former players later said Beckman had mistreated them. The outside investigation the university hired a law firm to conduct into those allegations continues.
Separately, former soccer player Casey Conine sued the university, coach Janet Rayfield, Thomas and others in May alleging she was allowed to play after a concussion in violation of school policy. Her case is pending.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.