Outlook bleak for women's basketball program

By Alex Roux

The Illinois women’s basketball program is seeing some of its darkest days.

Allegations of mistreatment and racism have come to light from no fewer than eight former players, thrusting head coach Matt Bollant and his remaining players into an age of uncertainty. Athletic Director Mike Thomas is feeling the heat, too.

The Champaign News-Gazette, the Chicago Tribune, and my colleagues at The Daily Illini have all done a fine job reporting on the allegations, so I’m not going to go in-depth regarding the details of the alleged infractions. Even CNN took a peek into what’s going on, largely summarizing in a nationally-broadcasted segment what had already been reported locally.

The eight former players have since filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois and those they have determined to be responsible for the alleged mistreatment, meaning this issue may not be resolved for a matter of years, barring a settlement. The lawsuit will almost certainly impede the ongoing external investigation into the matter.

I want to stress that when it comes to the ultimate resolution of this situation, the well-being of the University’s student-athletes is the primary concern. If the allegations are true, then those responsible need to be dealt with appropriately and safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that something similar never happens again at Illinois.

But I can’t help but take a look at the future of the women’s basketball program, one that won’t include those eight former players no matter what happens. And when I attempt to peer into at least the foreseeable future, it looks overwhelmingly grim.

The story has gone national, and the scope of the allegations guarantee that it’s an issue that won’t just blow over. With the lawsuit and external investigation occurring simultaneously, Bollant will be under scrutiny going forward. It will be an extremely uncomfortable situation for all involved, including Thomas.

Thomas hand-picked Bollant, and it appeared to be a solid hire at the time. But Bollant has gone 43-51 in three years at Illinois, a resume that Thomas must be seriously weighing risking his own job over. Recruiting going forward will be a huge challenge. Considering the cloud that could hang over the entire program should Bollant get a fourth year, I’d be surprised if Bollant isn’t let go before the season begins.

If, relatively soon, the athletic department somehow reaches a settlement with the plaintiffs and the investigation clears Bollant of wrongdoing, then he can survive this. But I wouldn’t bet on it getting cleaned up that neatly.

With the season four months away, the mass exodus from the program can’t be ignored. The Illini roster currently lists ten players; three of them are freshmen and four are sophomores. 66 percent of the scoring from last season’s 14-15 team is gone.

Sophomore Chatrice White is the Illini’s best player. She averaged 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last year and is currently a member of the U.S U19 National Team. But she also isn’t happy with the state of the program, for the exact opposite reasons that the eight accusers have filed suit.

The News-Gazette reported Friday that White’s parents had expressed their displeasure with the departure of former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss, the man who some of the most serious allegations were levied against. They believe Divilbiss is a victim who was unfairly forced out.

The Whites also said that Chatrice may “need to consider other options where coaches can coach and false allegations will not result in the dismissal of a great coach.”

It sounds to me like the Illini’s best player is seriously thinking about transferring. Add that possibility to the allegations and uncertainty, and none of this is good for Illinois women’s basketball.

It’s unfortunate for the players who have put in the hard work, and it’s unfortunate for the fans, but it’s the harsh reality.

The outlook for the program is bleak.

Alex is a senior in AHS. 

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