NCAA Investigating Montana Football Program

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – University of Montana officials have announced the NCAA opened an investigation into the university’s football program four months ago, in yet another blow to a school dealing with allegations that it improperly handled reports of rape and sexual assault.

Kevin McRae, an associate commissioner of higher education, released the NCAA’s “letter of inquiry” confirming the probe Wednesday in response to several media requests for information on possible NCAA investigations, including a specific request from KECI-TV in Missoula.

The letter does not say why the program is being investigated, and UM President Royce Engstrom said he did not know.

“Even if I wanted to tell you, I couldn’t, because the NCAA has not told me the intent of the investigation,” Engstrom told the Missoulian on Wednesday. “I can speculate, but I’m not going to do that.”

McRae said the NCAA had asked the university to treat the investigation as confidential, but Engstrom was “instrumental in UM’s efforts … to reach an understanding with the NCAA that UM will make this information public at this time because of UM’s interest in openness and transparency.”

The NCAA notified Engstrom, Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton and former UM athletic director Jim O’Day of the investigation in a letter dated Jan. 30.

“At this time, the possible violations primarily involve the football program,” the letter states, but notes that the investigation could be expanded.

The NCAA has contacted some UM personnel and has begun some interviews, McRae said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday, “but we are not aware of how many, or officially ‘who.'”

The letter of inquiry tells university officials they are to fully cooperate with the investigation and protect the integrity of the investigation, in part by not conducting any independent investigation or interviews without authorization of the NCAA’s enforcement staff.

“Institutions often believe they have an obligation to inform the head coach of the sport program under review of the existence and nature of the inquiry,” wrote Julie Roe Lach, vice president of enforcement for the NCAA. “This should not occur without the knowledge and approval of the enforcement staff.”

Engstrom would not say if the NCAA probe had anything to do with his decision not to renew the contracts of O’Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad in late March.

“I’m still not going to comment on those personnel matters,” he said.

Pflugrad and O’Day were relieved of their duties amid investigations into UM’s handling of reports of rape and sexual assault, including some that allegedly involved football players. The announcement came just days after Pflugrad spoke in support of a player who had been accused of rape by another UM student. No charges have been filed.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is investigating how the university, campus police and Missoula police and prosecutors handle reports of rape and sexual assault. The Department of Education also is investigating a sexual discrimination complaint filed in January that named the UM football program.

As part of UM’s investigation last winter into how it handles reported sexual assaults, university legal counsel David Aronofsky said employees must be sensitive about referring student-athletes to outside attorneys, “to avoid even the appearance of asking these attorneys to provide uncompensated or deeply discounted legal representation, in that this appearance could be seen as seeking and/or receiving benefits in violation of NCAA rules.”

UM Vice President Jim Foley told the Missoulian he met two football players at an attorney’s office on a Sunday after they were arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest by police who were breaking up a party last fall.

Police used a stun gun on both backup quarterback Gerald Kemp and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. They pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.