Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer 1218d

Illinois increasing support efforts following athletes' allegations of abuse

College Football, Women's College Basketball, Illinois Fighting Illini, Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois is taking steps to increase support for what it terms "the health and well-being" of its athletes following abuse allegations in both the football and women's basketball programs.

Some of the measures include appointing an ombudsman position to work with players, increasing the training for coaches and administrators about the health of their athletes, and hiring a consultant to identify potential risk areas. In addition, a student leadership council will be formed and will report directly to athletic director Mike Thomas every month.

"The fact that the recent allegations were first reported to us on social media instead of directly to us shows that in this fast-changing environment, we need to make sure we are providing students and their families even more access to internal support," Thomas said in a news release. "Our program is known for integrity, and we must ensure that our stated commitment to our student-athletes is truly beyond reproach."

Earlier this month, former Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic took to Twitter to allege that he was mistreated by football coach Tim Beckman and his staff, saying among other charges that his injuries were mishandled. While Thomas has defended Beckman, the school has commissioned an independent investigation into Cvijanovic's claims.

In late April, the families of former Illinois women's basketball players sent letters accusing coach Matt Bollant and former assistant Mike Divilbiss of verbal abuse, racist comments and the mistreatment of injuries. Divilbiss left the program May 18. The school announced earlier Tuesday that it had contracted a Chicago law firm to investigate those claims after its own internal review of the matter found no violation of university policy or NCAA rules.

Thomas said he has an open-door policy for any players who want to share concerns in the future.

"We feel our programs support a culture of respect and dignity that meets or exceeds most of our peer institutions," Thomas said. "However, as people have made allegations that show we can do even more, we are exploring these long-term enhancements to ensure we are the best in class for our support of the health and well-being of our student-athletes."

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