Amid a call from a college athlete advocacy group for an external investigation into allegations by former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic, another former Illini football player has claimed misconduct by coach Tim Beckman.
The university chancellor’s office, meanwhile, will review the allegations independently from the athletic department — excluding athletic director Mike Thomas from the process — according to a football team spokesman.
Thomas had said Monday he would work with the chancellor’s office to conduct an internal investigation into claims of player mistreatment and abuse while simultaneously voicing his support of Beckman and saying he would not reveal the review’s findings to the public.
That prompted the National College Players Association to send a letter Tuesday to Chancellor Phyllis Wise stating that Thomas has “compromised the integrity of his review by making conclusions before he collected any evidence” and that any findings of abuse should result in the termination of Beckman’s contract.
The family of former defensive back Nick North on Tuesday said he was “harassed” by Beckman, who tried to pressure North into signing a release from his scholarship. North, who had been recruited by previous coach Ron Zook, declined to sign the release and graduated in December from Illinois.
“Despite the mistreatment and harassment and not letting him play, he still got his degree,” Willis North, Nick’s father, told the Tribune. “He was healthy and they still wouldn’t let him play. They were trying to corner him and tell him, ‘You’re injured, so you need to sign this letter so we can use this spot for someone else.’ ”
Willis North said Nick’s mother, Linda North, attempted to contact Beckman several times and was “ignored.” She contacted the NCAA, he said, about Beckman’s alleged misconduct.
Willis North also said the Illinois medical staff mistreated Nick’s knee injury, calling it career-ending when a doctor they sought out privately for a second opinion said he was capable to continue playing.
Willis North alleged that Beckman attempted to peg his son as a “troublemaker” and find ways to punish him, including administering frequent drug tests that were not given to the rest of the team.
“They were trying to label him as … a detriment to the team, anything to get him to sign a letter of release so they could get rid of him,” Willis North said.
Those allegations followed complaints by Cvijanovic that began Sunday on Twitter and included criticism of Illinois’ former head football athletic trainer, who worked unlicensed before parting ways with the university. The trainer, Toby Harkins, worked at Illinois from January 2013 until he resigned in August of that year, according to the university.
State records show that Harkins didn’t receive his athletic training license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation until Sept 27, 2013 — at least one month after he resigned. The license was not renewed and expired May 31, 2014.
State records show that in November, Harkins received an athletic trainer’s license in Florida, registered to an address for the University of Florida Orthopeadics and Sports Medicine Institute. His wife, Kelly, also a certified athletic trainer, works at the UF Health Fitness & Wellness Center.
Kelly Harkins told the Tribune on Tuesday that her husband has been certified nationally since 1998 but that he declined to comment on his tenure at Illinois. She declined to address his license in Illinois.
Before working at Illinois, Harkins worked as an athletic trainer at Marshall University, Charleston Southern University and Erskine College.
A former Illinois player, who spoke with the Tribune on the condition of anonymity, backed up Cvijanovic’s allegation that Beckman kneed and brought down another player at a 2013 practice after defusing a fight.
Former Toledo players tweeted Monday that Beckman had mistreated players during his coaching tenure there.
Other Illinois players on Tuesday voiced their support of Beckman.
Offensive lineman Teddy Karras told the Tribune: “I never felt abused or mistreated by the staff. They handled my (knee) injury extremely professionally.”
Linebacker Mason Monheim said Cvijanovic is “trying to piece apart our team, and it’s unfortunate because of what we have going.”
Beckman released a second statement Tuesday through the university, stating that he is “disappointed” in the manner Cvijanovic is airing his complaints and noting the outpouring of support he has received.
“We’ll continue to treat the players in our program, current and former, like family as we continue to move forward,” said Beckman, who has declined interview requests.