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NCAA penalizes Montana in booster-perks case

HELENA, Mont. – An NCAA investigation found the University of Montana and former coach Robin Pflugrad failed to monitor the football program, allowing boosters to provide benefits to players, including bail money and free legal representation for two athletes.

Other player perks provided by boosters included free meals, clothing, lodging and transportation.

The penalties announced Friday 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 athletes participated after receiving help with their legal problems that is not allowed under NCAA rules.

The vacated games include a 36-10 win over rival Montana State and FCS playoff wins over Central Arkansas and Northern Iowa. Montana finished 11-3 that season and advanced to the FCS semifinals before falling to Sam Houston State.

The university self-imposed most of the penalties, the NCAA said.

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.

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 bailed the two out of jail and an attorney provided each 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 then-athletic director Jim O’Day and the compliance director were aware that a booster was providing legal assistance to the athletes.

Pflugrad and O’Day were fired in March 2012 without the university giving a reason. The NCAA investigation had begun 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 athletes on more than 100 occasions from 2004 through 2012; one couple provided a student-athlete with free storage space for a month along with transportation, clothing and a small cash loan.

The university has said it will release statements from President Royce Engstrom and current athletic director Kent Haslam later Friday.

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