Big Ten

Illini AD announces steps to better serve student-athletes

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Illini AD announces steps to better serve student-athletes

In the wake of allegations of abuse and mistreatment made by former athletes toward the Illinois football and women’s basketball programs, Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas announced Tuesday that his department is taking immediate steps to strengthen the emphasis on the well being of student-athletes.

The steps are aimed at increasingly the ability for student-athletes to communicate with the athletics department if there are issues involving their coaches, better informing coaches on how to behave and creating a couple positions to oversee the athletics programs.

“The fact that the recent allegations were first reported to us on social media instead of directly to us shows that in this fast-changing environment, we need to make sure we are providing students and their families even more access to internal support,” Thomas said in the announcement. “Our program is known for integrity, and we must ensure that our stated commitment to our student-athletes is truly beyond reproach.

“We feel our programs support a culture of respect and dignity that meets or exceeds most of our peer institutions. However, as people have made allegations that show we can do even more, we are exploring these long-term enhancements to ensure we are the best in class for our support of the health and well being of our student-athletes.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Mike Thomas addresses firestorm surrounding Illini athletics]

The university is currently in the middle of a pair of firestorms surrounding the football and women’s basketball programs. Former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic took to Twitter on Mother’s Day and unleashed a series of accusations toward head football coach Tim Beckman, asserting that Beckman is an abusive bully who forces his players to play injured, demonizes injured players and threatens to take away their scholarships. A week later, letters from the families of former women’s basketball players accused that coaching staff of similar things, including forcing players to play hurt, and included other allegations such as racially themed ones like the suggestion of separate practices for African-American players.

Thomas has taken plenty of heat for supporting Beckman and head women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant. But the university has announced an independent investigation into the allegations made toward the football program. And, after an internal review of the women’s basketball program turned up no violations of NCAA rules, university policies or applicable laws, the university asked a Chicago law firm to further investigate things.

The steps announced Tuesday include plans to better teach student-athletes about how to anonymously report problems, establish a mentoring program with former student-athletes, set up weekly meetings with student-athletes to openly discuss things and create a leadership council that will meet with Thomas and not the coaches.

[MORE BIG TEN: Nathan Scheelhaase to take job with Illini football]

The department will also implement the “Conduct Expectation for Coaches document” and increase training for coaching staffs on how to be more supportive of student-athletes.

The university will also hire an ombudsmen to serve student-athletes and a consultant to identify “potential risks related to workplace misconduct and the treatment of student-athletes.”

The announcement pointed out that the department already has a great deal of resources for student-athletes, including Thomas’ open-door policy with all student-athletes who wish to talk to him about problems.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.