(CBS) – The University of Illinois fired its football coach after allegations that players were pressured to play despite injuries.
But is the problem just in the football program?
Critics say the entire Illini athletic department should be under the microscope amid claims that players are pressured to play in several school sports programs without proper medical care.
“There’s fear of losing scholarship, there’s fear of losing draft stock, there’s fear of having your name slandered,” former University of Illinois football player Simon Cvijanovic says.
He was a starting offensive lineman who says despite painful injuries, he and others were forced to play by the head coach at the time, Tim Beckman.
Despite repeated serious injuries to his knee and shoulders, Cvijanovic says he was pressured to play last season, his senior year, until he was carted off the field against Ohio State. He soon quit the team and in May blew the whistle on the coaching staff.
His allegations led to an independent investigation of the Illini program, and ultimately Beckman was fired. Athletic director Mike Thomas spoke about the firing in August.
“That was more than troubling to me, and that’s why a decision was made and a decision was made quickly after I saw the preliminary briefings,” he said.
Thomas fired Beckman three weeks ago, before the internal investigation was complete, claiming player safety is the focus.
But just how transparent has the athletic program been on safety? The 2 Investigators filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for records involving any medications such as pain-masking drugs dispensed or paid for by state tax dollars and given to players. The request was denied.
Thomas promoted assistant coach Bill Cubit to interim head coach, but Cvijanovic says Cubit was also abusive and that when he got sick during practice, Cubit went after him.
“The medicals staff was well aware of my medication, but instead coach Cubit followed me up the steps and just laid into me — as I was throwing up in the garbage can — that I’m hurting the team,” Cvijanovic says.
“The buck stops with the athletic director,” says Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association.
He blames the entire Illini athletic program, saying, “There’s no question, from multiple players from multiple sports mimicking some of the same accusations.”
Allegations have also been made against the women’s basketball and soccer programs. Casey Conine says she was cleared and pressured to play soccer despite a severe concussion.
“It is indeed beyond any doubt a systemic problem,” says Chicago attorney Joseph Siprut, who is suing the university on Conine’s behalf.
“U of I didn’t follow up on their own protocol with respect to concussion management and put her back into the next game without having been cleared by a physician, and unfortunately she was concussed again,” the attorney says.
University of Illinois officials wouldn’t do an interview with CBS 2 for this report. The Big Ten would only talk about concussions by saying all teams have submitted updated protocols for review and feedback.