Big Ten

Mistreatment of players, not record, did in Illini's Beckman

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Mistreatment of players, not record, did in Illini's Beckman

Tim Beckman didn’t win many football games. But that’s not the reason he was fired Friday.

After months of an ongoing investigation into the football program in the wake of allegations of student-athlete abuse, Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas made it clear that the preliminary findings of that review were the sole reason Beckman was dismissed.

“You’ve heard me say this time and time again, our primary focus is the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Thomas said Friday. “We can win football games, we can graduate our student-athletes, we can be involved in the community, we can be good citizens. But those don’t trump the safety of our student-athletes. So when we've breached that or cross the line, that is more than troubling to me, and that is why a decision was made and a decision was made quickly after I saw the preliminary briefings.

“It was strictly based on these preliminary findings as it relates to the health and well-being of our student-athletes.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini dismiss head football coach Tim Beckman]

Thomas said he was “shocked and angered” by the initial findings. According to the Friday-afternoon press release announcing Beckman’s dismissal, the now-former head football coach — who often compared his players to his sons — made efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite their injuries. Initial findings also included Beckman mistreating players in regards to their scholarship status.

Thomas refused to share any other details from the initial findings of the review during his press conference Friday.

Beckman has been under fire for years now as he’s continued to struggle to accumulate wins with the speed that many Illini fans had hoped. After winning just two games in his first season, the Illini won four games in 2013 and six a season ago, reaching the first bowl game during his abruptly concluded tenure.

But while those on-field struggles had Beckman on the hot seat this season and last, they weren’t the reason he was removed from his job on Friday.

[MORE BIG TEN: Injuries, suspensions continue to thin Illini depth chart]

Thomas said that no other coaches have been implicated in the findings that he’s seen. While Beckman his gone, it is assumed the rest of his coaching staff will remain in place with offensive coordinator Bill Cubit taking over as interim head coach.

Thomas said that a formal coaching search will not begin for a few months, presumably after the conclusion of the upcoming season.

Regardless of Beckman’s results on the field, Thomas admitted the many good things that Beckman achieved with the Illini, including academic success and involvement in the community. Illinois didn’t experience many of the off-the-field legal issues that so many other programs do. But again, none of that is why Beckman lost his job.

“Tim, he came from a great coaching tree. He’d been around a lot of coaches who had been very successful, who spoke very highly of him. He did some great work at Toledo under some difficult circumstances with the program he inherited,” Thomas said. “When you talk to people about his program there and the things that he did here as it relates to what they did in the classroom. They did great work in the classroom, significant improvements in the academic side and their involvement in the community and what they did as far as citizenship. Those were the kind of positive reports that you were getting when you were looking at Tim Beckman three or four years ago.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini hire group of former Big 12 commish Dan Beebe]

Beckman’s exit shows the power of the voice of the student-athlete, as it was the allegations made by former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic that kickstarted this whole saga back in May.

Thomas said over and over that the health and well-being of Illinois student-athletes is his main concern, and to his credit, he announced reforms that would allow multiple avenues for student-athletes to bypass their coaches to report problems to the administration.

Now, with a head coach losing his job due to his neglect of student-athletes’ health and well-being, you have to wonder if the voice of the student-athlete will finally be listened to by those running college athletics at Illinois and on a national scale.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?