CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Illinois fired athletic director Mike Thomas on Monday as it released the final report from its investigation into mistreatment of football and women's basketball players.
The report found no wrongdoing by Thomas, according to interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson. She praised Thomas for dealing with the string of allegations that have erupted since May. But she said a change was needed.
"Decisions such as these are always difficult, but we have to focus on the best interests of our student-athletes. I believe this decision allows everyone to move forward," Wilson said in a prepared statement ahead of a news conference later Monday.
It wasn't immediately clear if Thomas had reached a settlement with the university. His annual pay was $568,178, according to university records. Thomas said in the release that he believes he acted appropriately but accepts the decision.
"I believe it is a good time to turn the page and put the focus of this organization back on the success and welfare of our student-athletes," Thomas said.
Allegations of mistreatment by former football player Simon Cvijanovic surfaced in May, and the report found that former football coach Tim Beckman "employed tactics that violated standards related to sports medicine protocols and scholarships." Beckman was fired in August.
The report also found that accusations by seven former women's basketball players that coach Matt Bollant and an assistant created a racially abusive environment were unfounded. The assistant, Mike Divilbiss, quit after the accusations. The players have sued the school, Bollant and Thomas; a former women's soccer player used the school, claiming she improperly cleared to play after a concussion.
Amid all of that, Thomas also lost one of his primary champions on campus, Chancellor Phyllis Wise. She resigned in August just before the university revealed she used a private email account to avoid scrutiny of her discussions of university business. Wilson replaced Wise.
Thomas came to Illinois from Cincinnati in 2011, replacing longtime athletic director Ron Guenther.
He walked onto campus at Illinois knowing that coaches in three major sports were on the hot seat. In a matter of months, he fired football coach Ron Zook, men's basketball coach Bruce Weber and women's basketball coach Jolette Law.
Some Illini fans had complained Guenther was too loyal to coaches he hired and, after being hired to clean up sports at Illinois after a scandal, was too conservative. But many of those fans never seemed to take to Thomas, either. Calls for his ouster from some fans started before he'd even been at Illinois a year, after he hired Beckman, men's basketball coach John Groce and Bollant.
Thomas is also just a year and a half removed from a contract extension and a raise. University trustees unanimously approved the deal and he was praised for the $60 million generated when the university sold the naming rights to the Assembly Hall arena to State Farm help pay for its $165 million renovation.
The project to refurbish the State Farm Center is due to be completed in December.