UPDATE: NCAA Places UM Football Program on Three-Year Probation

By Beacon Staff

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.”

Below is the press release from the NCAA.

“The University of Montana and its former head football coach failed to monitor its football program, according to findings by the Division I Committee on Infractions. University boosters provided extra benefits to football players, including meals, free legal representation and bail bond payments, a small loan, clothing, lodging, transportation and laundry services. Additionally, the football team exceeded coaching limits and two former student-athletes competed while ineligible. As a result of this activity, the university and the former head coach failed to monitor.

Penalties in this case, many of which were self-imposed, include a three-year probation period, scholarship reductions, a vacation of wins in which the ineligible student-athletes participated and reduction in the number of undergraduate student assistant positions. The former head coach, among other consequences, will be suspended from coaching duties at his current university for the first game of the 2013 season and face multiple recruiting restrictions during the upcoming fall season.

This case was resolved through the summary disposition process, a cooperative effort where the involved parties collectively submit the case to the Committee on Infractions in written form. The NCAA enforcement staff, university and involved individuals must agree to the facts of the case in order for this process to be utilized instead of having a formal hearing.

When two student-athletes were arrested in 2011, a university booster provided bail. Another booster then provided the student-athletes with free legal representation. According to NCAA rules, a law firm may provide a student-athlete free legal assistance if it has a history of providing pro bono services to other individuals, including the general student body at the school, and the student-athlete initiated contact with the law firm. Additionally, two student-athletes competed in regular and postseason games while they were ineligible, due to the provision of bail and free legal assistance.

Following the release of the two student-athletes from jail, the former head coach learned that a booster provided bail for the two student-athletes. The former head coach did not inform the compliance office or any other administrator of the booster activity. Senior athletics department officials, including the compliance director and director of athletics, were also aware that the booster was providing legal assistance to the student-athletes.

Three married couples, who were university boosters, provided meals for at least eight student-athletes on more than 100 occasions from 2004 through 2012. Additionally, one of the couples provided a student-athlete with free storage space for two months, transportation, apparel and a small cash loan. An assistant director of athletics also committed a secondary violation by providing a student-athlete with meals, snacks, lodging and laundry services..

During the 2011-12 academic year, the football program employed a student assistant that performed activities allowed only for coaches.

The former head coach failed to monitor the football program by not reporting the booster activity surrounding the arrest of the two student-athletes, not monitoring the relationships between boosters and student-athletes and allowing a student assistant to engage in coaching activity. The university failed to monitor the football program when it did not supervise the booster activity surrounding the provision of legal services to student-athletes.

Penalties and measures for the former head coach at his current university include:

— A suspension from coaching the first game of the 2013 season. The report further explains details of the suspension.

— A restriction from off-campus evaluations during the fall 2013 evaluation period.

— A restriction from off-campus recruiting during the first three weeks of the fall 2013 contact period.

— Required attendance at a 2014 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar in 2014.

The university penalties, including those imposed by the university, include:

— Public reprimand and censure.

— Three years of probation from July 26, 2013 through July 25, 2016 (proposed by the university and adopted by the committee).

— A limit of 59 equivalency scholarships per year for the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, from the allowable 63 (imposed by the university).

— Vacation of all wins in which two student-athletes completed while ineligible during the 2011 regular season and 2011 NCAA Division I FCS championship. The public report further details the requirements of the vacation (imposed by the university).

— A $3,000 donation to local charities (imposed by the university).

— A reduction of the number of student assistant positions by two during either the 2013-14 or 2014-15 academic year (imposed by the university).

— An external review of the university’s athletics compliance program (imposed by the university).

The members of the Division I Committee on Infractions who reviewed this case include Britton Banowsky, chair of the Committee on Infractions and commissioner of Conference USA; John Black, attorney; Greg Christopher, athletics director at Xavier University; Christopher L. Griffin, coordinator of appeals and attorney; Brian Halloran, attorney; Roscoe Howard Jr., attorney; Eleanor Myers, faculty athletics representative and law professor at Temple University; and Greg Sankey executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the Southeastern Conference.”

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