staff, May 26, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, ILL - University of Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas continues to emphasize that the health and well-being of Fighting Illini student-athletes is the number one priority for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA).

Thomas and the DIA staff have identified a series of immediate steps the division will be taking to strengthen that emphasis.

?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. ?Our program is known for integrity, and we must ensure that our stated commitment to our student-athletes is truly beyond reproach.?

Some of the steps Thomas intends to take include:

  • Review industry best practices related to student-athlete welfare to ensure that the DIA support system is the best in the nation,
  • Include the Executive Director of UI Ethics & Compliance Office, as a featured speaker at annual student-athlete orientation at the beginning of each academic year, so students better understand how and where to anonymously report problems,
  • Work with the Dean of Students office to create an ombudsman position to serve student-athletes,
  • Complete and implement the ?Conduct Expectation for Coaches? document, which DIA began creating this past academic year,
  • Increase training for coaches and their staffs on how to be better resources for and more supportive of the overall wellness of students,
  • Establish a mentoring program pairing former student-athletes with current student-athletes,
  • Review the DIA organizational structure to ensure sufficient oversight and support of each sport,
  • Establish weekly open invitation, student-athlete round tables with administrative staff/sport oversights, so students will have an additional venue for voicing any concerns,
  • Develop a leadership council for all sports to meet monthly directly with only the AD and sport oversight staffer, and
  • Hire a consultant to identify, assess and address potential risks related to workplace misconduct and the treatment of student-athletes.

Current support for student-athletes comes from many different areas. At student-athletes? initial orientation, they are given information on a wide array of resources including how to report any issues they don?t feel comfortable taking to their coaches. Then, once they are in school, they have daily contact with a number of support staff. In addition to the athletics trainers, sports medicine staff members, team doctors and coaches, our sport oversight administrators, nutritionist, academic counselors and compliance staff are available to help. The DIA supports a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) comprised of student-athletes. The campus has an Ethics Office, DIA conducts exit interviews with all student-athletes who want to talk to us about their experience, and Thomas has an open door policy to meet with any student-athlete who wants to share concerns.

?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.?