7 women's basketball players, UI reach settlement

7 women's basketball players, UI reach settlement

URBANA — The University of Illinois has reached a $375,000 settlement with the seven women’s basketball players who alleged that head coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment, pending Board of Trustees approval.

The school also announced Tuesday morning that it reached a $250,000 settlement with former football coach Tim Beckman. Beckman was fired in August.

The seven plaintiffs will split the $375,000 settlement that will be paid by the university's self-insurance plan. The total also includes attorney costs. Also as part of the settlement, the university has developed a code of conduct for player-coach interactions, appointed a compliance officer to moniter the code, enhanced racial sensitivity training for coaches and staff and made better efforts to inform student-athletes of resources available to them for issues with coaches. 

The university apologized to the players but said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing. 

"I sincerely apologize that these players did not have the positive experiences we desire and expect," Bollant said in a statement. "We will continue to enhance our program to ensure that all players are treated with respect and feel comfotable in communicating with our coaching staff and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics."

Added Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson: "We're sorry that these students' experiences at Illinois did not meet our high expectations. This agreement reflects our genuine hope that they are able to progress to successful careers and lives."

The DIA said in a release it considered the matter closed and no further comment will be provided. 

The suit, filed in July, named Bollant, Divilbiss and former athletic director Mike Thomas as defendants and asked for $10 million in damages.

The players who filed the suit are Amarah Coleman, Taylor Gleason, Jacqui Grant, Sarah Livingston, Nia Oden, Alexis Smith and Taylor Tuck.

In a statement, the players said that they think the current administration acted responsibly and in the best interest of student-athletes in handling the settlement.

"We are very happy to see that actions have been put in place so that no other student-athlete may have to experience what we have," the players said.

The lawsuit alleged that in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, coaches held segregated practices, segregated room assignments on road trips, gave the white players favorable treatment and called African-American players unintelligent, undisciplined and “west-side ghetto.” The players said the behavior was designed to coerce them to quit the team, surrender their scholarships or transfer.

However, the allegations were deemed to be untrue by two separate external investigations by Chicago law firms Pugh, Jones and Johnson and Franczek Radelet.

The Pugh report cleared Bollant of any racist or abusive behavior and said Divilbiss was harsh but not abusive. For its 67-day probe, which included conducting 33 interviews and reviewing 18,000-plus documents, the firm was paid $651,671.03.

The Franczek report, which led to the firing of Thomas and former football coach Tim Beckman, found allegations that Bollant and the sports medicine staff mishandled injuries to be unsubstantiated. It also cleared Bollant of threatening to take away scholarships.

In May 2015, Divilbiss and the program “agreed to part ways,” for which the coach was given a $48,500 payout.

None of the seven players who filed the lawsuit is currently on the team. Oden, Smith and Tuck graduated and the remaining four transferred to other universities. Grant, Gleason and Coleman were all granted exceptions by the NCAA to play immediately. Livingston, the sister of Golden State Warriors’ point guard Shaun Livingston, transferred to USC to play volleyball after the 2013-14 season.

Prominent Chicago defense attorney Terry Ekl — who has represented professional athletes such as Derrick Rose, Starlin Castro, Denis Sevard, Chris Chelios and Ed Olczyk — represented the players.

Ekl also represented John Harris, the former chief of staff to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in allegations relating to Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat. And he won a high-profile lawsuit saying the Chicago Police Department often covers up officer misconduct.

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Joe American wrote on April 12, 2016 at 11:04 am

So we're compensating some whiny, entitled millennials $50,000 each because they "felt" offended, but the faculty/staff who have to put up with the likes of them never know if their next paycheck will be their last?

Makes sense to me.

wayward wrote on April 12, 2016 at 11:04 am

The seven plaintiffs will split the $375,000 settlement that will be paid by the university's self-insurance plan. The total also includes attorney costs.

Guessing that a significant amount of that will go to attorney fees.

BruckJr wrote on April 12, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Yup, the ambulance chaser will get his.