Illinois Football under siege for abusing athletes – what the hell is wrong with Illinois athletics

by Kent Sterling

Illini AD Mike Thomas has a problem - or several problems - that may force him to make some changes.

Illini AD Mike Thomas has a problem – or several problems – that may force him to make some changes.

Illinois serves as a wonderful counterpoint to Indiana in so many ways.  For the last two days, I spent a considerable amount of time talking on the radio (3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430) about IU basketball player Devin Davis being cited for weed possession.  Then I start reading about the University of Illinois Football program, and I feel so much better about IU.

That’s Illinois.  Hoosiers feel like financial fools until they look at the books of the state to our west.  Then we feel like geniuses.  Some people in Illinois mock Indiana, but other than an overall lack of driving ability and girthy residents, the barbs about Indiana are  vapid and ill-founded.

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The University of Illinois football team and its coach appear to be at odds over the treatment of players.  According to players who are speaking up, coach Tim Beckman physically attacks players and forces them to play while injured.

There are similar accusations being made against the women’s basketball coach as well, so this issue isn’t limited to one rogue program.  It may just be a department wide matter for which AD Mike Thomas is responsible..

It appears the students at Illinois are being treated less humanely than the hogs in Delaware County, Indiana, that will no longer be subjected to wrestling area teens at the county fair.

And now, the National College Players Association is jumping to the defense of those who are blowing whistles more loudly than Beckman during spring practice.

Ramogi Huma is the head of the NCPA, and he sent a letter Tuesday to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise calling for the dismissal of all university officials who have abused players.

You remember Huma if you followed his efforts to help unionize Northwestern football players a couple of years ago.

The evidence to this point is purely here-say, and Huma prefaces his demand by saying that terminations should only take place as credible evidence is uncovered.

Huma’s request goes beyond termination for perpetrators –

  1. Terminate the employment of university officials directly involved in abusing players.
  2. Require university staff to be mandatory reporters of the suspected or verified abuse of any student – including those that play sports.  Those reporting suspected or verified abuse must be protected from any retaliation.
  3. All students, including those that play sports, should have the ability to anonymously report suspected or verified abuse of a student to a university official that is held accountable for investigating such reports.  The findings of all investigations must be reported to the Chancellor.

And then he requests a reply.  Bold words for the leader of an ad hoc organization that serves as an unofficial representatives of athletes that may never have heard of the NCPA or Huma, but someone needs to speak on behalf of the athletes.  Why not Huma?

The point is that Illinois is in trouble, and because the issues extend beyond football and Beckman.  Illinois’ football program hasn’t been a source of great pride for the Land of Lincoln for a generation, but Beckman seems to have them moving in the right direction – at least from a wins and losses perspective.

Beckman’s Fighting Illini teams have won two, four, and six games over his seasons as coach, but winning is only part of the formula for success in college football.  Gone are the days of the Junction Boys of Texas A&M when a punishing 10-day camp led to hospitalization of some and winning by others.

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Whipping a team into shape and bludgeoning them into compliance is correctly cause for dismissal in these slightly more enlightened times.  Ignoring injury, and asking a player to do the same, is banned in the NFL.  It isn’t allowed in the there, and it shouldn’t be tolerated in colleges where players are not paid at all.

The problem is that athletic directors like Thomas aren’t applauded or incentivized for serving as an ambassador for student-athletes – they hire successful coaches and back them up so they don’t look like morons for having hired them in the first place.

Maybe there’s a place at the table for a guy like Huma after all to represent unpaid athletes serving only at the pleasure of well-paid coaches.  If not him, then who?

As for those of us in Indiana, there exists yet another reason to feel good about our state and its universities.

15 thoughts on “Illinois Football under siege for abusing athletes – what the hell is wrong with Illinois athletics

  1. Cindy in Lamont

    Kent, call the Illinois SID office and see if you can get a straight answer on how many girls transferred from the basketball program this year alone. 1 or 2 are publicly announced, and another 2-3 are known but…..seemingly denied by U of I? Total of 4, so far. In fact (depending on the date of the interview I suppose) there was a quote in a paper about one of the young ladies who has transferred being a big contributor next year!?

    Looks to me like the AD is covering up under the guise of privacy disclosure. I am a taxpayer paying for this BS. A FOIA request would prove there are (sur)real institutional problems at U of I.

    1. Stephen


      Your tax money has nothing to do with UI’s athletics budget — that is funded through the B1G, the revenue sports, and private donations. It is not funded nor does it have any effect on Illinois taxpayers.

      1. Cindy in Lamont

        If you believe student athletes at any D1 public university are not supported by taxpayers, you are a moron. Do they attend all classes off campus? Play games off campus? What an idiotic statement. Why is Mike Madigan now involved if athletics have nothing to do with taxpayer dollars?

        These issues have been on Mike Thomas’ desk. Mike Thomas is the AD. And these are just what we know about, all of which was denied out of privacy concerns. So if this is happening in the highest profile Mens and Women’s sports and Mike Thomas fires no one, it’s not an institutional issue?

        It’s OK with you that 4 girls have to transfer yet Bollant gets to stay? Did you read the Illini?

        1. Stephen

          No, the allegations are not ok with me, but it is not a “tax-payer” issue. That was my only point. Unless you are donating money to the DIA at Illinois or have kids attending there, you have no financial interest in University of Illinois athletics.

  2. Tina grusecki

    So far Jacqui Grant has transferred going to DePaul.
    Taylor Gleason transferred going to Oakland University
    Amarah Coleman transferred going to DePaul
    Alexis Smith transferred going to Wagner
    Both Amarah and Alexis received releases weeks ago but school won’t report it.

    1. Norma Stock

      Isn’t there a liability issue here, somewhere? I’d think there be a line of blood thirsty lawyers circling this ripe for a suit mess.

      1. Avery Markham

        Maybe there is a line of lawyers. My guess is the UI is putting up full defense walls to keep this from coming out. There are allegations of UGLY behavior in women’s basketball, and I mean UGLY. My understanding is asst coach Mike Divilbiss was fired Thursday night. Bollant not only defended Divilbiss, but condoned the behavior by allowing it to continue IN HIS PRESENCE!

        How does Bollant stay on our dime?

        Abusive crappy coaches stay, and the kids have to leave? WTF?

        This is a Mike Thomas issue. He should resign in disgrace.

  3. Stephen

    Yes, Illinois sports are a disgrace:

    Men’s tennis: Big Ten regular season and tournament champions, #4 national ranking.

    Men’s golf: Big Ten Champions, Regional Champions and #1 national ranking.

    Men’s baseball: Big Ten regular season champions, #4 national ranking and 26-game winning streak.

    Men’s Track & Field: Big Ten Outdoor champions, Indoor 2nd place.

    Fire Mike Thomas!

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Winning isn’t everything, the only thing, or even a meaningful thing compared to the well-being of the students – in sports other than men’s hoops and football.

      1. Stephen

        Yeah, tell that to Bobby Knight, who was extremely abusive towards student-athletes for years and nobody in Indiana cared as long as he was winning national championships.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Why are allegations of wrongdoing always excused by commenters with comparisons with someone who did worse? Yes, Bob Knight was in several way – and is – an asshole. Because what Illinois coaches are responsible for does not measure up to the misery authored by Knight, it’s okay? That is wretched logic.

      2. Stephen

        Reading the accusations against the Illinois Womens; basketball coaches that were published today was extremely saddening. As an Illinois sports fan, it angers me to think that someone representing a school I care about is behaving in such a manner.

        That being said, there is no indication that this is a systemic problem within Illinois athletics. I have never heard any accusations like this about John Groce, Dan Hartleb (Baseball), Brad Dancer (Men’s tennis), Mike Small (Men’s Golf), Mike Turk (Men’s Track & Field), or any of the other coaches in the athletic department.

        Frankly, for a fan of a program that housed Bobby Knight and later hired Kelvin Sampson to speak in such a holier-than-thou manner against Illinois is pathetic. In addition, having read your responses to some of your readers, you are a bad example yourself and have no basis for looking down or judging anyone else for poor conduct.

  4. Cindy in Lamont

    More allegations come to light today. Drip drip drip.

    It’s nonsense. Nothing illegal, against university policy, or athletic policy. But we fired the creepy Divilbiss? For what? If nothing occurred?

    I’m hoping Mike Thomas was misquoted by the Illini, because his statement was unintelligible adminispeak.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      No, but certainly forcing kids to live through misery. Sanctioning that activity allows coaches carte blanche in terrorizing student-athletes in the name of preparation.


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