Big Ten

Mike Thomas done as Illini athletics director


Mike Thomas done as Illini athletics director

Mike Thomas' tenure as the athletics director at the University of Illinois is over.

Interim chancellor Barbara J. Wilson announced Monday morning that the school is making a change in leadership in the department of intercollegiate athletics, with the findings of the investigations into the football and women's basketball programs released Monday, as well.

While the investigation did not find that Thomas did anything wrong, Wilson still said that a leadership change was needed.

"There were no findings of misconduct by the director of athletics and no violations of policies or standards by him in this review," Wilson said in a letter to students and faculty. "But, I believe that in order to move forward and put the focus of the athletics program back on the success of student-athletes, a change in leadership is needed."

Wilson announced that Paul Kowalczyk will take over as interim athletics director.

According to Wilson, Thomas' departure is made possible by a "without cause" separation clause in his contract.

Thomas and his department came under fire this summer when the football and women's basketball programs were plagued by accusations of mistreatment of student-athletes by the respective coaching staffs.

Former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic took to Twitter to accuse former head football coach Tim Beckman of being an abusive bully who forced his players to play injured, demonized injured players and threatened to take players' scholarships away.

Those accusations were found to be mostly true by the investigation, and Thomas fired Beckman a week before the season began.

This from the report by the law firm Franczek Radelek:

"Examples of the issues we uncovered include: (1) coach interference with player reports of injuries to athletic trainers and doctors through demeaning criticism in public settings, belittling commentary regarding injuries and injured players, preaching perseverance through injuries to an inappropriate extent, and encouraging players to minimize reports of injuries; (2) coach interference with and failure to defer to physician decisions by exerting excessive pressure on athletic trainers that led some head athletic trainers to leave, one athletic trainer to prioritize football team goals over student-athlete medical concerns, and physicians to intervene multiple times; and (3) administrative oversight deficiencies regarding the response to reports of concerns from team physicians and athletic trainers. Coach Beckman created pressure on sports medicine staff and players in incremental fashion, building a culture that tended to blame players for being injured, dissuaded reports of injuries, and favored athletic trainers who pushed medical decision-making boundaries. Student-athletes received proper medical care when sought, but Coach Beckman’s leadership did not prioritize student-athlete welfare with respect to injury management in accordance with applicable standards."

Several former members of the women's basketball program filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming that an environment of racial hostility existed within the program, accusing the coaching staff of treating black and white players differently, holding segregated practice and having them room separately during road trips.

But a separate investigation into that program and those accusations found no evidence to support those claims.

Thomas began his tenure as the athletics director at Illinois in August 2011 and hired both Beckman and current men's head basketball coach John Groce.

While Thomas has brought improvements to Memorial Stadium and the State Farm Center, the latter of which is in the middle of a massive renovation project, he has received plenty of criticism for his department's two most high-profile programs failing to reach a sustained level of success. In three seasons under Beckman, the football program reached just one bowl game, while in three seasons under Groce, the basketball program has just once reached the NCAA tournament.

Kowalczyk steps up from his position as senior associate athletics director. He was the athletics director at both Colorado State and Southern Illinois.

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


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


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.