MISSOULA — After consulting with outside legal counsel and the NCAA’s enforcement division, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom has decided against appealing self-imposed sanctions on the Griz football team.
Engstrom met with members of the Grizzly Quarterback Club on Tuesday to discuss his decision. The group had previously recommended he seek advice from a law firm in Kansas City that specializes in NCAA appeals and lawsuits.
Engstrom talked with the law firm, among others, and was told Montana’s penalties were not extraordinary, based on its infractions.
“I decided no further action was either warranted or would be fruitful,” Engstrom told the Missoulian on Thursday.
In July 2013, the Montana football program leveled upon itself a list of penalties approved by the NCAA.
The Grizzlies went on probation for three years and lost 12 scholarships, in part because of improper benefits to players such as bail money, legal advice and other perks such as meals and clothing. Montana was also found guilty of allowing ineligible players to compete in 2011 and as a result vacated five wins and a Big Sky Conference championship.
Last December, Griz supporters submitted a six-page proposal to UM athletic director Kent Haslam with hopes the university would reconsider the penalties and ask the NCAA to have them reduced.
The proposal included more than 500 signatures. The group contended the Griz received “unprecedented penalties amid an atmosphere that was anything but fair and objective.”
Supporters of an appeal further cited that with recent news the NCAA is considering changing some of the same rules that UM reportedly broke, “the time has come for action.”
Earlier this month, the coalition expressed its frustration over what it viewed as a lack of progress by UM officials.
“I appreciate their enthusiasm and I appreciate that they have brought forward what they believe to be a legitimate issue,” Engstrom said three weeks ago. “It demands serious attention, so I’m giving it that.”
The effect of Montana’s loss of scholarships has already been felt. This year marked the first of three the Grizzlies worked with 59 scholarships rather than up to 63.
Consequently, Montana’s 2014 recruiting class is not the typical group.
“We had a total of nine scholarships to give with the sanctions we’re working under,” Griz coach Mick Delaney said back in February. “We had to take a little different approach and that is our coaches worked extremely hard in getting out and finding quality walk-on guys.
“We picked up some kids that were at our camp, some kids from different places.”
How much difference can four scholarships make?
“It can mean as many as 12 kids (are affected) if you divide them into thirds,” Delaney noted. “That means there may be 12 kids out there who could have had a third of a scholarship that you don’t have that to work with.
“You tell them, ‘Hey, down the road, we keep working like we are and you come here and play hard, we’ll manage this thing until it’s over and not miss a beat hopefully.’ ”
Asked if the sanctions will have an effect on the 2014 season, Delaney was reassuring.
“Ninety-nine percent of those (2014 recruits) aren’t going to play as true freshmen,” he said. “It really doesn’t have an effect on this immediate year and probably not much on the second year.
“The third year, just in numbers you’ll see the depth probably affected a little bit.”
On Thursday, Engstrom voiced his support for Delaney and the Griz football program. Montana is coming off a 10-3 playoff season.
“They’re moving forward full speed ahead and I’m proud of our program, our players and our coaching staff,” Engstrom said.