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Illinois’ announces allegations of racism in Women’s Basketball program unfounded

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – An outside investigation has concluded that allegations of racism within the University of Illinois women’s basketball program are unsupported.

The investigation, conducted by the law firm of Pugh, Jones & Johnson, included a review of more than 18,000 documents, 33 interviews, the statements of eight former players, and review of game and practice video footage.

It culminates with a report that recommends steps for clarifying expectations regarding coaches’ conduct, better defining the coach-parent relationship and enhancing resources for student-athletes to report concerns or complaints about their experience at Illinois.

Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise said she supports the investigation’s findings based on the information that was available. She said the campus will implement its recommendations as quickly as possible. 

“We find any allegations troubling, because they don’t reflect our values,” Wise said. “Student-athletes are part of our Illinois family, and we want to ensure that their experiences are fulfilling, and that they are able to work toward an Illinois degree and prepare for lives of leadership and impact.”

“Going forward, we must ensure that our coaches and staff members have a clearer understanding of our core values and expectations, and that our student-athletes never ever feel they have nowhere to go when they have concerns,” she said.

The university initiated the investigation after some former players and their parents made specific allegations. Some of the families have filed a lawsuit against the university.

Investigators reported that allegations of players being segregated by race during practice and at hotels during road trips were unfounded. The review also found that extra practice sessions included both African-Americans and Caucasians and were not punitive, but were held to ensure that student-athletes who played less than 20 minutes in the previous game remained in shape and ready to play. Records of hotel room assignments show that the majority of room assignments featured mixed-race pairings. 

Head Coach Matt Bollant and former Associate Head Coach Mike Divilbiss “acknowledged that the tone of their coaching at times was too negative,” the report states. “However, the evidence shows their actions did not constitute racial discrimination or harassment.”

The report stated that Divilbiss “treated players harshly in a number of incidents and more harshly overall than other coaches,” but found “no evidence that he criticized players differently or more frequently because of their race.” 

The external investigation confirmed the findings of an initial review conducted by the University. 

U. of I. Athletic Director Mike Thomas said he is committed to correcting the problems pointed out in the external report and ensuring that the university protects its student-athletes. He said the athletic department had been responsive to player complaints before the allegations surfaced and, as part of the department’s continuous efforts to improve the student-athlete experience, will implement changes based on the investigative report’s recommendations.

“Our number one priority is the well-being and health of our students,” he said. “We are implementing positive changes across our athletic department that we believe will become part of the best practices for other schools in the country in the coming years.” 

Thomas said the changes would include implementing a formal coaches’ code of conduct, improving processes for student-athletes to report concerns and complaints, and creating a policy establishing clearer lines for appropriate interaction between coaches and parents or others who act on behalf of student-athletes.

“We can never have too many ways to help students connect with support,” Thomas said.

A separate evaluation continues of concerns related to sports medicine and the women’s basketball programs.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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