November 9, 2015 / 10:05 PM / 3 years ago

Illinois fires athletic director after allegations by athletes

(Reuters) - The University of Illinois fired athletic director Mike Thomas following the release on Monday of a report that detailed the mistreatment of players by former football coach Tim Beckman.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said while the report found no wrongdoing by Thomas, she believed that a “change in leadership” was necessary and it was “time for us to move forward.”

“(Thomas) has done a good job of leading (the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics) through recent challenges,” she told a news conference at the Champagne, Illinois school. “And he is the one who actually requested the outside investigations.

“However it’s time to put the distractions of these past months behind us and to put the focus back on the success of our athletic programs.”

Wilson said she “consulted with many people” over the firing of Thomas “and in the end I made the decision.” She described his release as a no-cause dismissal.

Thomas, who will be paid $2.5 million for the remainder of his contract, hired Beckman as head coach in December 2011, four months after becoming athletic director.

In a statement, Thomas said he understands the administration’s decision “to turn the page and turn the focus” back to the athletes.

“The reports indicate that I acted appropriately and immediately whenever I learned of any issues related to the safety and well-being of our students,” he said.

“However, I understand the chancellor’s viewpoint that my continued presence may create an ongoing distraction for our students, coaches and staff, and I accept the situation.”

The allegations against Beckman came to light in May by former football player Simon Cvijanovic.

Monday’s report, which included a review of more than 200,000 documents and 100 interviews with players, former players, coaches and medical and athletic staff, concluded that Beckman “violated standards related to sports medicine protocols and scholarships” in his treatment of his players.

Beckman, who was fired in August, “pushed players and athletic trainers beyond reasonable limits in systematic fashion,” the report said.

The report also found that allegations that women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant and an assistant, Mike Divilbiss, had created a racially abusive environment were unfounded. Divilbiss left the program in March.

Paul Kowalczyk will move up from his role as senior associate athletic director to fill Thomas’s spot on an interim basis, Wilson said. He previously served as athletic director at Colorado State University and Southern Illinois University.

Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; editing by Tom Brown

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