More lawsuits from former UI athletes could be in works

More lawsuits from former UI athletes could be in works

Already named in one lawsuit by a former athlete, the University of Illinois could soon find itself targeted by others.

As the seven families of former women's basketball players consider their options, the father of disgruntled football player Simon Cvijanovic told The News-Gazette on Wednesday that he is seeking legal representation, as well.

Frank Cvijanovic indicated his family plans to file a lawsuit against the university over alleged mistreatment by coaches and staff.

"I think the way Simon was treated at the end of last season was, honestly, criminal," said the father of Simon and Peter Cvijanovic, two former Illinois offensive linemen. "He was a player for them for five full years under their care and under their medical care. They just basically wrote him off like he quit or something.

"Through a variety of different sources, we're trying to find the appropriate firm or person that's going to represent us. We're still in the process of it. I really don't know if there's other players that might join in on it, so I don't know the extent of it."

Earlier this week, former UI women's soccer player Casey Conine filed a lawsuit against the university's athletic department, athletic director Mike Thomas, coach Janet Rayfield and assistant athletic trainer Brittany Scott over the handling of a concussion she received.

Late Wednesday, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said UI officials haven't seen the suit, which seeks damages of at least $50,000.

Conine's claim is the latest in a series of off-field accusations leveled against the UI's athletic department.

In May, parents of seven women's basketball players directed letters to Chancellor Phyllis Wise over the handling of an internal investigation into alleged mistreatment by the coaching staff. That came on the heels of letters obtained by The News-Gazette claiming coaches were "creating the atmosphere of verbal and emotional abuse."

Head coach Matt Bollant declined comment on Wednesday. Several families, as they have since the father of Taylor Gleason said "I think they should all be gone," did not return messages.

Frank Cvijanovic said Simon is home in Cleveland awaiting medical care to deal with a torn labrum he suffered during the Illini's loss at Ohio State on Nov. 1, along with having his knee evaluated. Simon Cvijanovic indicated last month the Illinois medical staff did not make him aware of the full extent of a surgery on his meniscus in December 2013.

Messages left with Simon Cvijanovic were not immediately returned on Wednesday, but last month he indicated he felt rushed back to play too soon. His father agreed on Wednesday.

"Illinois is not Ohio State," the father said. "Ohio State has a three-deep with four- and five-star players. Illinois is not that way. The two-deep at Illinois are guys that aren't going to be ready until the junior and senior years. They didn't have anybody ready, and as a result they were pushing him to play through a pretty severe injury."

Frank Cvijanovic said his son has been contacted by the Chicago law firm of Franczek Radelet, which the university hired last month to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations.

"But he's not returned any of their messages, and he won't without some sort of (legal) representation," Frank said. "Their own interest is to discredit anything Simon says or does."

He said he's not in favor of the law firm the university hired for the investigation.

"It speaks volumes to everyone," he said. "The kid's crying to basically give players some kind of voice to unionize, and they go ahead and hire a union-breaking law firm. What can I say to them? Nothing."

Frank Cvijanovic said his younger son, who was part of the Illini's 2014 recruiting class but redshirted last season, is still on medical scholarship at Illinois and plans to arrive back in Champaign on Sunday.

The father said Peter has Type 1 diabetes and gets all his treatment through the football team's medical staff.

"It's a very awkward situation," he said.

Frank Cvijanovic claims the Illinois coaches weren't aware of Peter's diabetes until he received his first physical at Illinois.

"I wanted to talk to the team doctor and wanted to know where we were going to get his insulin requirements from," he said. "They all looked at me like I was crazy because the coaches never told anyone, nor did they ever ask anyone.

"That, in conjunction with the fact that he had a torn labrum, it blackballed him severely. They've been doing everything they can to push his butt out of the program any way that they can."

Peter Cvijanovic arrived at Illinois weighing close to 290 pounds.

He's now down to 250, his father said.

"It's not about how much he's eating," Frank said. "It's about maintaining blood sugars at the right levels. He's going to dramatically lose weight if they aren't maintained.

"Peter is a very happy-go-lucky kid. He is not that way now. It's because of the way that he's been treated in the program and how, in a nutshell, has been pushed out."

Former EIU player fires lawyer over settlement

A former Eastern Illinois University football player and the lead plaintiff in a concussion lawsuit against the NCAA fired his lawyer on Wednesday.

The player, Adrian Arrington, was upset that Joseph Siprut, co-lead counsel in the case, approved a settlement proposal being considered by U.S. District Judge John Lee in Chicago. Siprut also represents former Illini soccer player Casey Conine, who filed a concussion-related lawsuit against the University of Illinois on Monday.

Arrington said he didn't approve the settlement. An initial settlement plan was rejected by Lee in December, but has been reworked. The agreement includes $70 million the NCAA has pledged to set aside to test current and former athletes for signs of brain injury.

Even though the NCAA will be shielded from class-action lawsuits in exchange for the medical testing and other provisions of the deal, current and former athletes would still be able to sue their college or the NCAA as individuals, as Conine is doing. The NCAA-funded test could help give them medical grounds for filing such suits.

— Staff and wire reports

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Dan Bloeme wrote on June 11, 2015 at 8:06 am

Shame, shame on Beckman, Bollant and Thomas. So much shame they've brought UI.

warrenz wrote on June 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

How is this guy saying he might file a lawsuit a front page story? Not a front page sports story, but the front page of the paper. If it actually happens, sure, that's a story. Right now, it's just a guy blowing hot air and saying absolutely nothing new or newsworthy. Pathetic judgment. 

Moonpie wrote on June 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Bye, bye, Timmy Beckman. Bye, bye, Mikey Thomas. Bye, bye, Matty Bollant. Along with the UI whitewash will be some sweeping away of personnel. The Legendary Sleepy Gazoo Coaches can whine about how this hurts recruiting, but maybe a thorough hosing down is needed for these programs to some day become respectable.

muckfichigan wrote on June 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Completely agree.

Rather than splashing a headline that adds no new information, which seems disengenous at best given the serious context with which a lawsuit of this nature carries, how about running down the facts and reporting that instead? Simon made several statements on twitter which implied that he did quit the team, wondered why he wasn't allowed to travel with the team to the bowl, and allowed to attend the end of year banquet. He also implied there were some shennanigans with the interpretation of his medical imaging studies perhaps on the part of the team physicians. There seems to be many angles that could be investigated by an inquisitive journalist, are there any alive at the NG?