HELENA (AP) – Gov. Brian Schweitzer says sports fans like himself have to accept some responsibility for the criminal troubles in sports programs at the state’s top two universities.
Schweitzer, a Montana State University alum and Bobcat fan for years, said Friday that the programs were driven to recruit good athletes over good students amid a frenzy to become more competitive.
“I guess the ones who are to blame in all of this are those of us who are Grizzly and Bobcat boosters,” Schweitzer said. “We said to the administration and coaches, ‘just win, baby.'”
Problems with arrests of athletes have gripped both the University of Montana and MSU, where troubles culminated in May with the firing of popular football coach Mike Kramer.
At UM, three football players currently face charges in connection with a home break-in, and several other players have been arrested since June on charges ranging from murder to drunken driving to assault. The MSU football team has lost scholarships for failing to meet NCAA graduation standards and several current and former athletes have been arrested for serious crimes.
Schweitzer said MSU football fans pushed the program to compete with UM, which the school lost to for many years in the annual matchup.
“We brought Kramer in and said ‘We want to win’,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer pointed to recruits who were good athletes but had previously failed at another four-year college, or were perhaps junior college transfers, as potential trouble areas.
“We recruited them just based on their athletic skills. Why? Because the Bobcat and Grizzly athletic boosters said ‘just win,'” the governor said.
The MSU athletic department did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Schweitzer has talked to officials at both schools, and said “their level of frustration is the same as mine.”
Schweitzer said he told them that Montanans clearly want fewer arrests out of the sports programs, even if it means more losses.
“They absolutely agree. They are trying to take these steps,” Schweitzer said. “In addition to choosing the best athletes, let’s choose good citizens.”
UM president George Dennison and MSU athletics director Peter Fields have said their schools have made some changes and will make more in the way they evaluate and help recruits adjust to campus life.
Dennison, MSU President Geoff Gamble and Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns are working on ways both schools can address the problem.
Dennison, though, says that he is not going to fire UM head football coach Bobby Hauck.
On Thursday, the Board of Regents said the issue of the arrests is a big area of concern.
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