No more waiting and wondering for the Montana football program.
On the heels of an 18-month investigation, the NCAA made it clear Friday that the Grizzlies will pay for rules violations two years ago. Still, the overriding sentiment among UM officials seems to be relief because the probe is finally over and the Griz have not incurred a postseason ban.
“It leaves the opportunity for this class of 2013 to achieve every single one of the goals they set over eight months ago when we came off the field at the end of November,” said Grizzly head coach Mick Delaney, whose team will begin preseason workouts the week of Aug. 4. “That in itself is a positive and it gives us and our players the opportunity to move forward.”
A postseason ban might have been devastating. Not just for current players and coaches but an athletic department and community that reap the financial reward that comes with semi-regular playoff games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
A ban may have also had a significant impact on ticket sales in the coming regular season. Griz fans are accustomed to watching their team compete not just for Big Sky Conference titles but national titles.
“We’re pleased by that, there’s no doubt,” Montana athletic director Kent Haslam said. “A postseason ban can be an option and very much a part of the conversation.
“We wanted to put forward self-imposed penalties that were severe enough and wouldn’t be taken lightly by the (NCAA) committee on infractions. I’m pleased the committee agreed with the self-imposed penalties that we put in place. We had outside legal counsel that assisted us going through and looking at what’s the precedent and what’s been done in the past. We put forward penalties that were reasonable and more measured against the misdeeds that were done.”
The most serious penalty imposed upon the Grizzlies was a reduction of four football scholarships. The number will be whittled down from 63 to 59 per year through the 2017 academic year.
Intent on guiding a promising Griz team back to prominence after a rare losing season in 2012, Delaney prefers to look upon the reduction as a challenge his team can overcome.
“It’s not going to hurt us at all if we manage it in a positive way,” he said. “Obviously it’s going to be a challenge to make sure we’re evaluating properly and doing our best we can to not make any mistakes with incoming recruits.
“It will take the numbers back a little bit but that we can live with ... Obviously it’s never good when there’s an investigation and you have sanctions put on you, but in the same turn it’s what it is. We can’t dwell on everything that’s happened the last year and a half, which we haven’t done. We just have to look forward to keep moving ahead.”
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The NCAA determined that former UM head coach Robin Pflugrad had failed to monitor the Griz program, allowing boosters to provide extra benefits. Those include bail and legal representation to players.
It was also determined that the football team had exceeded its coaching limits and that former players Trumaine Johnson and Gerald Kemp played while ineligible. They were arrested in 2011 as officers tried to break up a party in Missoula.
The NCAA discovered that a “booster” bailed Johnson and Kemp out of jail. An attorney then provided each with about $1,500 in free legal representation.
Other penalties imposed upon UM include public reprimand and censure. Plus the Griz must vacate five 2011 wins, including those against Montana State, Central Arkansas and Northern Iowa, along with making a $3,000 donation to local charities and conducting an external review of the UM athletics compliance program.
“To finally me be able to move forward and close this chapter – no more rumors, no more wondering – it really is a nice thing to have that done,” Haslam said. “Getting this out now and in the public only helps us move forward.
“I don’t want to say we’re just dismissing it. But I think we’re strong as ever. We’ve got great student-athletes, great coaches and staff. This is a bump but we’ll continue doing what we do well. That means graduating athletes, winning conference championships and being a part of this great community.