Former Beckman players from Illinois, Toledo, speak out about treatment

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Former Beckman players from Illinois, Toledo, speak out about treatment

Illinois' Tim Beckman during the game against Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. The Illini won 42-34. Beckman is the target of accusations of mistreatment of former players

Illinois' Tim Beckman during the game against Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. The Illini won 42-34. Beckman is the target of accusations of mistreatment of former players

Illinois' Tim Beckman during the game against Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. The Illini won 42-34. Beckman is the target of accusations of mistreatment of former players

Illinois' Tim Beckman during the game against Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. The Illini won 42-34. Beckman is the target of accusations of mistreatment of former players

By Peter Bailey-Wells, Sports editor

The National College Players Association urged the University and Chancellor Phyllis Wise to launch an independent investigation into allegations made against head football coach Tim Beckman and the Illinois football staff.

The allegations stemmed on Sunday from former Illinois football players including former tackle, Simon Cvijanovic, and statements from former defensive back, Nick North, to The Daily Illini. Cvijanovic alleged via Twitter on Sunday that Beckman and his staff mistreated players when it came to injuries and scholarships.

The Association’s executive director, Ramogi Huma, filed a letter to Wise that claimed Cvijanovic’s allegations warrant “a serious investigation.” The Association is comprised of more than 17,000 former and current Division I athletes, and alleged that Athletic Director Mike Thomas has put his internal review in jeopardy because he has not collected evidence verifying evidence to support Beckman’s statement about putting “Simon’s welfare above everything else.”

The letter stated that the Association believes the University must ensure that a proper review of the football staff and the athletic department take place, reveal its findings to the public, which Thomas said is currently not the plan, and to “do everything in its power to end” any abuse without delay.

***
The lights turned off over Memorial Stadium on April 18 after the Illinois football Spring Game and the program fell into its annual summer slumber.

Apart from a few recruiting road trips, the Illini players and coaches lay low until summer camp starts.

Then Sunday afternoon Simon Cvijanovic logged on to Twitter and shattered the silence.

The former Illini offensive lineman, who is slated to graduate this month from the University, blasted head coach Tim Beckman and the program with a long series of tweets that leveled accusations about everything from medical treatment to the control of scholarships.

Cvijanovic’s tweets focused on the medical treatment he had received for the meniscus in his knee and a torn labrum in his shoulder.

The senior, a 6-foot-6 tackle from Cleveland, said Beckman and his staff had pressured him to come back before he was fully healthy. He claimed Beckman was demeaning toward him and other players, including Cvijanovic’s younger brother Peter, who suffered from illness or injury. Peter, an offensive lineman currently on the team’s roster, has Type 1 diabetes.

Following Cvijanovic’s Twitter accusations, more former Beckman players came forward regarding the coach’s behavior towards players.

“When I was being recruited out of high school I met a bunch of college coaches,” said Nick North, former Illini defensive back. “Tim Beckman, man, he takes the cake as the worst coach I ever met.”

North was recruited by former Illinois head coach Ron Zook and was a member of the team from 2011 to 2014. He redshirted the 2011 season but graduated from the University in December 2014, following the 2014 football season, forgoing his final year of eligibility.

In the spring of 2013, while a sophomore, North said he tore his PCL and developed a cyst on his knee as a result. He said Beckman and his staff forced him to continue to practice when he should have been doing light work. North echoed the statements that Cvijanovic expressed on Twitter on Sunday evening: He claimed Beckman pressured players who were injured to come back and play sooner than they felt comfortable.

North’s mother, Linda North, said that two MRIs were taken of Nick’s knee in 2013, one in April, when it was injured and one in August. She added that the University refused to pay for the MRIs, which the school is not required to pay for under NCAA rules.

Linda added that several calls she made to Beckman during Nick’s time on the team all went unreturned. She said the only time she spoke with Beckman was at Nick’s graduation in December.

“The only thing he said to me was that, ‘I’m sorry Nick didn’t get to play the way he wanted, but I’m glad he was able to graduate,’” Linda said. “That was it.”

Nick said Beckman pushed him several times to sign what Nick called the “Terminator sheet,” which, if he signed it, would release his right to a scholarship. He added that Beckman called him into his office multiple times per week to talk to him about giving up his scholarship and transferring.

“He suspended me for a couple of days (in the fall of 2013),” Nick said. “He told me to come to his office every day and talk to him because I told him I wasn’t going to sign the paper.”

Upon hearing the news of his suspension from her son, Linda called the NCAA and spent over an hour on the phone trying to figure out Nick’s rights as a student-athlete.

She said she thinks that call prompted someone from the NCAA to call Illinois, because the next day, she said Beckman allowed Nick to come back to team activities.

Nick said when he returned to practice his teammates had no idea why he had been absent.

In Cvijanovic’s tweets Sunday, he mentioned that if Beckman “doesn’t want you he can make up any rule for you to break.” Nick said that despite the fact that he didn’t have a history of getting in trouble — he doesn’t have a criminal record — Beckman imposed strict rules on his behavior.

“For two weeks I took a drug test every day,” Nick said. “He was blatantly trying to find something to kick me off the team.”

The Daily Illini was unable to acquire waiver of North’s FERPA rights in order to view his athletic medical records from his time at Illinois — including results from drug tests.

Former University of Toledo players who had been coached by Beckman added that they had witnessed unfair treatment of players during the coach’s time as the head coach of the Rockets.

“He never mentioned anything to me (about scholarships), but he probably should have, because I was a bit of a jerk in college, and got in a bit of trouble,” former Toledo kicker Alex Steigerwald said. “He always threatened people to take their scholarships. I understand it as a motivation tactic, but that doesn’t work for everyone.”

Steigerwald played for the Rockets from 2006 to 2009, and is one of the most successful kickers in the school’s history. He started all four seasons, was a perfect 13-for-13 as a sophomore and ended his career having made 82.7 percent of his field goals and 95.3 of his extra points.

Steigerwald was on scholarship all four years at Toledo. He went to Cleveland Benedictine High School, the same school the Cvijanovic brothers attended, but said he never knew either Simon or Peter personally.

Andrew Weber was a backup walk-on kicker for Toledo from 2008 to 2010 and said if Beckman didn’t like a player he would “find any possible way for you to break a rule,” but that Beckman had never come after him personally because he was a walk-on and didn’t have a scholarship.

Another Toledo player, wide receiver Tim Cortazzo, who played for the Rockets from 2007 to 2010, quit the team before the 2011 season after a Beckman recruit who he had beat out the year before was put ahead of him on the depth chart.

But, all things considered, Cortazzo said, he didn’t have “any hard feelings” toward Beckman following his time at Toledo, adding that Beckman turned around the Rockets’ on-field performance in a way he appreciated and that he was “far from a disgruntled ex-player.”

Beckman declined comment when asked about Nick North’s career at Illinois and the experiences mentioned by Steigerwald, Weber and Cortazzo.

Tuesday morning, he released a statement and said “I am disappointed that a former Fighting Illini player has chosen this path to air his concerns.

“I have been overwhelmed by the support shown by the student-athletes and the parents who are currently in our program, along with many former players. We’ll continue to treat the players in our program, current and former, like family as we continue to move forward.”

When The Daily Illini followed up with this statement, it was confirmed the former player Beckman was referring to was Simon Cvijanovic.

During Athletic Director Mike Thomas’ Monday teleconference, he said he was unaware of any mistreatment of players under Beckman either at Illinois or Toledo. Thomas said that he would be following up on Cvijanovic’s claims of mistreatment with the Chancellor’s office.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a statement Monday that she had confidence that “Mike Thomas and his staff’s number one priority has always been the health and well-being of our student athletes.”

Thomas declined further comment Tuesday morning.

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@pbaileywells

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the National College Players Association urged an internal, independent investigation. The association urged an independent review. The Daily Illini regrets the error.