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Illinois' Mike Thomas On Accusations Of Player Mistreatment: 'We Wear Integrity On Our Sleeves'

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With strong accusations leveled throughout the entire Illinois athletic department, head football coach Tim Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas spoke out Thursday.

Addressing reporters at the Big Ten's media days at McCormick Place, Thomas defended the work in his athletic department while deferring to the ongoing investigations enforced by University of Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise.

"I truly believe we wear integrity on our sleeves," Thomas said. "That's the foundation of our program. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want to hear it, because they think we're diverting from these other issues -- we got a lot of great things going on."

When asked directly about the allegations of racism against Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant, Thomas pointed to the ongoing investigation, which still has an uncertain timeline for completion.

Beckman, too, is being investigated for the accusations of mistreatment from former lineman Simon Cvijanovic, who last year represented the Fighting Illini at media days. Thomas pointed to his conversations with players and parents of the football program.

"What's out there isn't at all reflective of the experience that their sons have had," Thomas said. "They didn't use the words 'good experience.' They said their kids have had an 'awesome experience.' Certainly, that's the goal."

When Beckman stepped to the podium Thursday afternoon, he was making his first public comments since the accusations first emerged, even after multiple interview requests were previously declined.

Beckman's first question was in regards to the allegations, and he turned the focus.

"We're focused right now on the 2015 football team," Beckman said.

Many have reached out to support Beckman, he said. Additionally, Beckman suggested he has worked with an open-door policy for his players and staff.

As the questions continued -- with many more to come throughout the day -- Beckman kept his focus on football and the Fighting Illini's season opener with Kent State.

Beckman enters his fourth season at Illinois with a record of 12-25, though his program has improved from two wins in 2012 to six and a bowl berth in 2014. This is just the latest battle he's facing with the Fighting Illini.

"Fifty years ago when I was first born, I knew that college football was something I always wanted to do," Beckman said.

Illinois' representatives remain on campus at McCormick Place to address questions -- none more pressing than on the topic of accusations against the athletic department.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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