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Former Illinois women's basketball players file $10 million lawsuit against University

Once again, Illinois is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Seven former Illini women's basketball players have filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Illinois, athletic director Mike Thomas, several members of the Board of Trustees, head coach Matt Bollant, and former associate head coach Mike Divilbiss. The group of players is seeking $10 million in damages after allegedly being abused physically, psychologically, and mentally by members of the coaching staff. You can click here to view the lawsuit in its entirety.

According to Matt Wettersten, there are also two additional players that are considering joining the lawsuit.

Here is a portion of the report by The News-Gazette:

"The suit, filed in federal court in Urbana on Wednesday morning, names Bollant, Divilbiss, athletic director Mike Thomas and the university board of trustees as defendants and seeks $10 million in damages.

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

According to the suit, during the 2013-14 and 14-15 women's basketball seasons, Bollant and Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment through segregation and separate treatment of players by race.

Among the allegations:

— Coaches held segregated practices

— Coaches prohibited white players from rooming with black players on road trips

— When the Illini played predominantly black teams, the coaches asked the black players what they thought the other team was going to do. When the Illini played predominantly white teams, the coaches asked the white players.

— The coaches called predominantly black teams "undisciplined and unintelligent" while referring to predominantly white teams as "disciplined and intelligent.

— Calling one or more of the black plaintiffs unintelligent, undisciplined and "west-side ghetto."

— Coaches held more severe discipline for black players and white players despite similar conduct.

— The coaches encouraged or helped the "favored" white players improve when they played poorly, while black players and white teammates who associated with them were "insulted, denigrated, demeaned, demoralized and/or embarrassed" if they made mistakes. The coaches also addressed the players in a denigrating manner in team meetings and practices. The conduct was designed to coerce the plaintiffs to quit the team, surrender their scholarships or transfer, the lawsuit said.

— Coaches held more severe discipline for black players and white players despite similar conduct.

The allegations were first reported back in May, when Divilbiss unexpectedly departed from the program. He had recently completed his third season on the Illinois staff after arriving from Wisconsin-Green Bay in the spring of 2012 as part of head coach Matt Bollant's initial staff.

Shortly thereafter, the University announced that the claims would be externally reviewed by an independent law firm. Evidently, that wasn't sufficient action as the group of players has decided to push ahead with legal action despite the ongoing investigation.

Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise issued the following statement on Wednesday night:

"The external review is continuing, so it is disappointing that legal action has preceded the findings. We will review the lawsuit and determine an appropriate response. I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn't excellent, we take those concerns seriously. We intended that through the external review process the student-athletes and their families would help us better understand their concerns and perceptions."

"As we await the results of the review, Athletic Director Mike Thomas has already added staff to closely monitor team activities and has implemented additional ways for student-athletes to report any concerns they have. As this situation has demonstrated, even though our avenues for reporting concerns match or exceed those of most of our peers, we will continue to explore ways for students to connect with a university staff member to address them promptly and constructively."

~ Chancellor Phyllis Wise

It hasn't been a very good Summer for the Illinois Athletic Department. Former football offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic went on a prolonged Twitter rant back in early May that echoed similar player abuse allegations and, although it hasn't received much attention of late, that's definitely still an ongoing issue. Regardless of the outcome, it's still more of the same from Champaign--Illinois is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

We'll make sure to keep you updated on the situation as it progresses.

UPDATE (7/2/15):

According to the News Gazette, an eighth former player has come forward with allegations of mistreatment. Here's an excerpt from their story:

Kierra Morris told The News-Gazette she felt ostracized from the team after chronic knee pain led her to be medically disqualified to play during the 2012-13 season, Matt Bollant's first at Illinois after being hired away from Wisconsin-Green Bay by new athletic director Mike Thomas.

For that, she blames UI coaches, who she said reneged on a promise to make her a student manager and took measures to alienate her from her teammates.

Morris said she didn't share her grievance with university officials at the time because she didn't trust them and feared her scholarship would be taken from her.


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