MISSOULA – Penalties to the University of Montana football program following an investigation are the result of the NCAA being “extremely technical,” former head coach Robin Pflugrad said.
Ex-athletic director Jim O’Day said the NCAA spent so much time investigating that it had to find something wrong.
The NCAA on Friday said the school and Pflugrad failed to monitor the football program, allowing boosters to provide benefits to players, including bail money and free legal representation for two players. The NCAA also said in the results released following a yearlong investigation that other player perks provided by boosters included free meals, clothing, lodging and transportation.
The penalties, many self-imposed by the school, include a three-year probationary period, the loss of four scholarships in each of the next three seasons and vacating five wins in which ineligible players participated after receiving help with their legal problems that is not allowed under NCAA rules.
“I understand some of those scholarship losses only in the fact the NCAA has been in here 18 months and they’ve allocated a lot of resources and personnel and time to look at it,” O’Day told the Missoulian. “They absolutely had to come away with something. It’s no different than the IRS when they go in and they are red-flagged on something. They’ve got to come away with something.”
Pflugrad and O’Day were fired 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.
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.
He told the newspaper that he disagrees with the NCAA’s definition of a “booster.” The NCAA determined that backup quarterback Gerald Kemp and cornerback Trumaine Johnson were bailed out of jail after their arrest on Oct. 23, 2011, by the mother of a teammate who paid $130 and $190. Kemp’s grandfather later reimbursed the woman.
Police officers used stun guns on the two players trying to break up a loud party.
The NCAA also found that an attorney provided each player with about $1,500 in free legal representation. The NCAA said Pflugrad learned a booster had posted bail, but did not report it to university officials. NCAA officials also found O’Day and the compliance director were aware that a booster was providing legal assistance to the players.
Johnson, who now plays for the St. Louis Rams, and Kemp pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct charges in December 2011.
“In the highest degree of technicality, I looked at that relationship, as a mother of a player whose teammate was in trouble, and when does that cross over to being a booster?” Pflugrad said. “If that’s my biggest mistake, then I’m going to move forward with it. Because there has to be some form of humanity in what we do.
“You know the first thing I did, I made sure none of our coaches had bailed out players. That was my job and I moved on from there.”
Pflugrad disagreed with his firing.
“There was an overall climate and publicity that assisted in creating a certain atmosphere in which the administration overreacted,” he said. “That resulted in the termination of the athletic director and myself as head football coach.”
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.
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