U of I Chancellor, AD: No Personnel Changes From Women’s Basketball Lawsuit

August 03, 2015
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise address reporters in her  campus office in Champaign Monday.

U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise address reporters in her campus office in Champaign Monday.

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

An outside investigation of women’s basketball at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus has found no evidence to support claims of abuse or racism by former players.  Meanwhile, Athletic Director Mike Thomas and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise say there will be no personnel changes after seeing the findings by the Chicago law firm hired by the university to conduct the investigation. 

But they do expect other changes within U of I women’s basketball and other sports, and some of those were in the works before the lawsuit surfaced.

Recommendations made by the firm of Pugh Jones and Johnson include giving student athletes more avenues to make their concerns heard, and having more clear standards for coaches’ conduct.

Thomas said there will also be changes in the education and training of both athletes and coaches.

“It’s things that we can do internally within our staff, and our training and education, and also bring in people from the outside who deal with this at the national level – different consultants," he said.  "Some of them have already been our campus, and some are still to come.  It’s a variety of things that we’ll be looking at, and I think when you combine all of them, it will only strengthen what I think is a pretty good program already.”

Thomas said all 21 sports on the U of I campus will see some of these changes.  He said part of them is giving student athletes a 'comfort zone' in which they have issues or concerns they want to discuss.

"Once we digest these recommendations, we will also look at what of those would make sense for the total program, and a number of them do, and some of them are more isolated to the women's basketball program," he said.

Chancellor Wise stands by the thoroughness of the Pugh report, noting the firm went over 18,000 documents, interviewing more than 30 people, and reviewing multiple hours of video.

"We are convinced that they did as thorough a job as could possibly be done for the evidence they have now," she said.  "There’s always the possibility that in the future at some point there will be new data, but we don’t predict that will happen.  You can go with only what you have."

Head U of I women's basketball coach Matt Bollant is expected to issue a statement later in the week.

Meanwhile, the attorney for the seven former women’s basketball players who filed the $10 million lawsuit against the U of I says the Pugh report will have no effect on their legal efforts.   The women allege Bolllant and former assistant Mike Divilbiss (who left the U of I around the time the lawsuit surfaced) created a racially hostile environment, holding segregated practices, and using more severe discipline for black players.

In a statement issued Monday, attorney Terry Ekl said his clients were not expecting a “thorough, unbiased investigation” by a firm hired by the university. 

"As we have have said previously, while they hoped for the best, these 7 former players had little expectation for a thorough, unbaised investigation, and the outcome of the investigation has no effect on their claims moving forward," he said.  "This is why they filed suit without waiting.  The only judgment as their claims that matters will be that of members of the community at a jury trial, and the former players' confidence for vindication in that setting has been and remains steadfast."

Story source: WILL