NCAA penalizes University of Montana over booster perksHELENA, Mont. (AP) — The University of Montana's football program was placed on probation for three years Friday and will have its scholarships reduced from 63 to 59 over the same period after the NCAA found boosters provided extra benefits to players, including bail money and free legal representation for two athletes.
By: AMY BETH HANSON,Associated Press, Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The University of Montana's football program was placed on probation for three years Friday and will have its scholarships reduced from 63 to 59 over the same period after the NCAA found boosters provided extra benefits to players, including bail money and free legal representation for two athletes.
Other player perks provided by boosters included free meals along with clothing, lodging and transportation, the NCAA found.
The university and former coach Robin Pflugrad failed in their duties to monitor the football program, the NCAA said in its report.
The penalties, many self-imposed by the school, include vacating five wins for games in which ineligible players participated after receiving help with their legal problems in violation of NCAA rules.
The vacated games include a 36-10 win over rival Montana State and FCS playoff wins over Central Arkansas and Northern Iowa in 2011. Montana won the Big Sky Conference title in 2011, finished 11-3 overall and advanced to the FCS semifinals before falling to Sam Houston State. However, it can no longer list those among its football accomplishments, which include seven appearances in the FCS title game since 1995 and two national championships.
The school did not receive a post-season ban.
President Royce Engstrom and athletic director Kent Haslam issued statements Friday saying the university has expanded its compliance office and is improving its communication of NCAA rules to the university's fan base.
The university must also arrange an external review of its compliance program.
Haslam's statement asks boosters to feel free to ask any questions about NCAA regulations by calling, emailing or submitting an anonymous question to the "Ask Grizzly Compliance" section of the university's website.
Pflugrad, who is now the offensive coordinator at Weber State, is suspended from coaching during the first game of the 2013 season and faces recruiting restrictions this season. He also must attend an NCAA regional rules seminar in 2014.
Pflugrad accepts the sanctions and will not coach from Aug. 26 through Aug. 31, when the Wildcats play Stephen F. Austin, Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said in a statement.
Pflugrad, who coached at Montana in 2010 and 2011, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Much of the case revolves around the October 2011 arrests of cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who now plays for the St. Louis Rams, and backup quarterback Gerald Kemp by police trying to break up a loud party. Officers used stun guns on the players.
The NCAA found that a booster posted a $340 bond to bail the two out of jail at the request of one player's grandfather — who later repaid her — while an attorney provided each with about $1,500 in free legal representation after a student employee in the football office told the players his mother was a lawyer.
The NCAA does not identify Kemp and Johnson in its report, but their arrests were widely reported on. They both pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct charges in December 2011.
The NCAA said Pflugrad learned a booster had posted bonds for the two, but did not report it to university officials. NCAA officials also found then-athletic director Jim O'Day and the compliance director were aware that a booster was providing legal assistance to the players.
O'Day said he forwarded the findings and the president's statement to his attorney for review, saying that he "found some of it to be quite interesting." He declined further comment.
Pflugrad and O'Day were relieved of their duties in March 2012 without the university giving a reason. The school was notified of the NCAA investigation in January 2012, but it was not announced until May.
The NCAA also found that three couples who were university boosters provided meals for at least eight players on more than 100 occasions from 2004 through 2012, including one couple that gave standing Sunday dinner invitations to several players over the years. Another couple was found to have provided meals for three football players at their postgame tailgate gatherings from 2009 through 2012.
One couple provided a player with free storage space for a month along with meals, transportation, clothing and a small cash loan, while an assistant athletic director committed a secondary violation by providing a player with meals, snacks, lodging and laundry services, the NCAA found.
The NCAA also found that an undergraduate student assistant performed activities allowed to be performed only by coaches, effectively giving the team another coach above the 11 allowed by the FCS. The penalty is a reduction of two student assistant positions in one of the next two seasons.
Pflugrad cannot count the five vacated wins toward his career totals and Johnson and Kemp's statistics from the games in which they were ineligible must be erased from the record books.
The NCAA investigation took place at about the same time the federal departments of Education and Justice were investigating the university for sexual discrimination and its response to reports of sexual assault.
The federal investigations were combined. The university agreed in May to revise its policies and training and adequately respond to sexual assault allegations.
"It is good to be moving forward and to have this situation resolved," said Kevin McRae, spokesman for the commissioner of higher education. "UM's student athletes, athletic department, and administration have the full confidence and support of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Board of Regents. All these folks have worked very hard to get 2011 behind us and to feel good about the future."