Seven former University of Illinois women’s basketball players are suing the basketball program’s head coach and former associate coach, alleging they created a “racially hostile environment” — including segregating players during practice and while traveling.
In addition to coach Matt Bollant and former associate head coach Mike Divilbiss, the suit — filed Wednesday in federal court — also names the university and athletic director Michael Thomas. The basketball players, including five African-Americans, are seeking $10 million.
Beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, Bollant and Divilbiss “began and continued to mistreat and abuse the plaintiffs physically, psychologically and/or mentally in the context of women’s basketball program games, practices and/or activities in such a manner as to create a racially hostile environment,” according to the suit.
Neither Bollant nor Divilbiss could be reached for comment. A university spokeswoman also couldn’t be reached.
The alleged hostility included having segregated practices and referring to the black players’ group as “the dog pound.”
Bollant and Divilbiss also allegedly imposed “segregated travel room assignments,” the suit states.
And when Bollant and Divilbiss were talking with the team about upcoming opponents, their remarks would change dramatically depending on the race of the opponent, according to the suit.
“During team preparations for games, [Bollant and Divilbiss] referred to opposing teams predominantly made of black players as undisciplined and unintelligent and referred to opposing teams predominantly made of white players as disciplined and intelligent,” according to the suit.
The harassment lasted through the end of the academic 2015 year, the suit states, and it led to five of the seven basketball players quitting the team and leaving the university.