The NCAA announced harsh sanctions against the University of Montana on Friday after it found numerous violations within the football program.
The Division I Committee on Infractions, following an investigation that began 18 months ago, said Montana failed to monitor the program during the two-year tenure of former head coach Robin Pflugrad, who was fired by the university in March 2012.
The committee said UM boosters improperly provided legal representation and bail bond payments to two players, reportedly All-America cornerback Trumaine Johnson and backup quarterback Gerald Kemp, after they were arrested while police tried to break up a party in October 2011. The benefits made the pair ineligible while they competed in the remainder of the team's Big Sky Conference co-championship season.
The boosters also provided players with such benefits as meals, a small loan, clothing, lodging, transportation and laundry services. In addition, the football team exceeded coaching limits when a student assistant performed activities allowed only for coaches.
In delivering penalties, the NCAA said many were self-imposed by UM. They include a three-year probationary period which began Friday, a three-year reduction of football scholarship from 63 to 59 beginning with the 2014-15 school year, the vacating of five wins in 2011 (three regular season, two playoffs) in which Johnson and Kemp competed in after receiving the booster assistance, and a reduction in the number of undergraduate student assistant positions by two in each of the next two school years.
In addition, UM will donate $3,000 to local charities and undergo an external review of the university's athletics compliance program.
Pflugrad, still in the Big Sky as an assistant coach at Weber State, will be suspended for the first game of the Wildcats' season on Aug. 31 and will not be allowed to recruit off-campus during the upcoming season. He also must attend an NCAA regional rules seminar next year.
The NCAA said Pflugrad failed to inform UM's compliance department or any other school administrator of the booster activity with Johnson and Kemp, although some senior athletics department officials were aware of the booster involvement. Former athletic director Jim O'Day, like Pflugrad, was fired by UM last year.
The university released a statement from president Royce Engstrom that including the following:
"As president, I take seriously the responsibility of ensuring that UM offers a dynamic learning environment that is second to none, including strong academics and strong athletics. Even before the end of the NCAA investigation, we instituted changes. We expanded our athletics compliance office; we are developing more educational programs; we are improving our communications with staff, coaches, student-athletes, fans, and supporters; and we are improving facilities for these students. We will work to ensure that we are in full compliance, and we intend to continue strengthening our culture of compliance."
The violations ran deep within the UM program. The NCAA said three married couples, who were university boosters, provided meals for at least eight student-athletes on more than 100 occasions from 2004 through 2012.
Also, 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..
The NCAA said the Montana case was resolved through the governing body's summary disposition process, a cooperative effort in which the involved parties collectively submit the case to the Committee on Infractions in written form.
Montana, a perennial power within the Big Sky and nationally in the FCS, is coming off its first losing season (5-6) in 27 years. The Grizzlies, under second-year coach Mick Delaney, will begin their season on Aug. 31 at home against Appalachian State.