The firestorm surrounding several Illinois athletics programs isn't calming.
Wednesday, seven former women's basketball players filed a lawsuit against the university, with athletics director Mike Thomas, head women's basketball coach Matt Bollant, former assistant women's basketball coach Mike Divilbiss and the university's board of trustees named as defendants.
Detailed in a report by the Champaign News-Gazette, the seven former players — Amarah Coleman, Taylor Gleason, Jacqui Grant, Sarah Livingston, Nia Oden, Alexis Smith and Taylor Tuck — claim that the coaching staff created a racially hostile environment, segregating black and white players and treating players of different races in different manners. The players allege that coaches held segregated practices, prohibited black and white players from rooming together on road trips, frequently called black opponents unintelligent and undisciplined and disciplined black players more severely than white players.
The lawsuit claims the coaching staff violated the Federal Civil Rights Act and seeks $10 million in damages.
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The lawsuit is the most recent step in the ongoing saga surrounding the program. Families of former players sent letters to the university alleging the inappropriate behavior of the coaching staff in April, prompting an internal investigation. But that investigation found that no laws, NCAA rules or university policies were violated. More communication from the players and their families led to the university asking for an external review of that internal investigation.
University chancellor Phyllis Wise made this statement expressing her disappointment in the lawsuit:
"The external review is continuing, so it is disappointing that legal action has preceded the findings. We will review the lawsuit and determine an appropriate response. I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn't excellent, we take those concerns seriously. 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, athletic director Mike Thomas has already added staff to closely monitor team activities and has implemented additional ways for student-athletes to report any concerns they have. As this situations has demonstrated, even though our avenues for reporting concerns match or exceed those of most of our peers, we will continue to explore ways for students to connect with a university staff member to address them promptly and constructively."
The women's basketball program isn't the only program embroiled in controversy inside the Illinois athletics department. Simon Cvijanovic, a former offensive lineman, gained significant attention following social-media allegations directed toward head football coach Tim Beckman that claimed him to be an abusive bully who lies about players' injuries, forces players to play injured, demonizes injured players and threatens to take players' scholarships away.
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Plus, this is not the first lawsuit brought against the university by a former student-athlete this summer. Former Illinois soccer player Casey Conine filed a lawsuit alleging mishandling of treatment for a concussion by the medical staff.
Thomas has made several comments since allegations toward the football and women's basketball programs surfaced over the last few months, supporting his coaches and asking people to reserve judgment until investigations are completed. In addition to the external review of the internal investigation into the women's basketball program, there is an ongoing independent investigation into the claims made regarding the football program.
Thomas' office announced a series of steps within the athletics department to better serve student-athletes, including better informing coaches on how to behave, making it easier for student-athletes to talk about problems involving their coaches and creating positions to oversee and review the athletics department and its treatment of student-athletes.