Missoula, Montana isn't exactly the epicenter of the college football world, but on Friday the NCAA made some headlines and head scratching moves as they handed down punishment for illegal benefits provided by boosters to players at the University of Montana.
According to a CBSsports.com article the NCAA is putting the Grizzlies on three years of probation, taking away four scholarships over those three years and forcing the team to forfeit five wins. Why? Well, apparently two boosters got involved in the legal issue of two players being charged with disorderly conduct and the then head coach, AD, and compliance officer failed to notify the governing body of the impermissible benefits the players received.
Those benefits, according to the NCAA documents, included a booster paying the bail for two players held for disorderly conduct and another local attorney/booster providing about $1,500 in legal services for free.
So, one could assume that this is just another classic case of breaking NCAA bylaws and let the world of college football move on. Nevermind that this isn't some FBS school we're talking about, but an FCS program that has clearly spun out of control. The hidden part of all of this involves some very serious legal investigations about sexual assault and student-athletes.
There is also a federal probe by both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education into the handling of alleged sexual assaults on the University of Montana campus – two of which involve football players during the tenure of head coach Robin Pflugrad.
Pflugrad, along with AD Tim O'Day were dismissed in March of last year when the allegations of wrong-doing in the disorderly conduct cases piled up with the federal investigations into school and city officials over nine unreported sexual assaults in the past 18 months. Two football players have been officially charged with rape and both occurred under the watch of Pflugrad.
Anyone else find it interesting that the NCAA had nothing to say about a clear "lack of institutional control" in this case, yet used it as the basis for Penn State to receive it's sanctions. How is this not a clear case of exactly that taking place in Montana?
How did the Grizzlies program get off so light compared to what is happening in Happy Valley? Is it because they play a lower division of football? Or maybe it is because the NCAA doesn't want to get involved in an ongoing legal issue?
Either way this just smacks of another horrible example of hypocrisy rearing it's ugly head as the NCAA hands down another inconsistent punishment to a football program. It's a bad message to be sending – only cases that have big time national pressure get the hammer thrown down on them?
Instead shouldn't Montana have the book thrown at them too? After all, it wasn't just one coach gone bad – it was the ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, the HEAD COACH, and the COMPLIANCE OFFICER that were the ones causing the issue. If that's not a "lack of institutional control" then I don't know what is.
Yes they were fired by the university president once the allegations about the boosters came to his attention, but that doesn't excuse bad behavior and the precedent of Penn State sure rings loud and true.
Perhaps when the NCAA meets in January to discuss "sweeping changes" to the structure of it's organization they should also consider sweeping changes to it's punishment arm as well. Getting consistent punishments for specific violations of NCAA bylaws would certainly help the governing body build back some modicum of trust and respect amongst the general public and college sports fans in general.
Until then, the University of Montana is just another example of the NCAA getting it wrong and that's a shame.