- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - University of Montana President Royce Engstrom is considering a request by hundreds of Montana football fans to appeal what they call “overly severe” sanctions after the NCAA found players received improper benefits and coaches and others failed to monitor the program.

“I am in the process of talking to a variety of people about the matter that these folks have brought forward,” Engstrom told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1fQ8s03) on Monday. “I’ve made some phone calls to people that are helping me think it through.”

The NCAA found Montana players received extra benefits such as Sunday dinner and food at tailgates, that the mother of a football player paid just over $300 to bail two football players out of jail at the request of the grandfather of one of the players, who later paid her back. It also found an attorney gave them free legal representation after an arrest for disorderly conduct. The NCAA said they were ineligible to play after those arrests, so the school had to vacate any wins in which they participated.

Last July, the NCAA agreed to UM’s self-imposed sanctions of three years of probation, the loss of four scholarships for each of three seasons and vacating five football wins, including two playoff wins. UM also had to donate $3,000 to charity, the value of the free legal help the players received.

In December, football program supporters argued the sanctions exceeded those imposed on other schools that acknowledged more egregious and blatant violations. They argued the “extra benefits” received by Montana players were humanitarian in nature, and the type the NCAA is considering removing as violations. The backers reiterated their request in March.

“I appreciate their enthusiasm and I appreciate that they have brought forward what they believe to be a legitimate issue,” Engstrom said. “It demands serious attention, so I’m giving it that.”

The Griz supporters argued the severity of the punishment UM proposed was a reaction to the climate on campus at the time, which included the firing of football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day and federal investigations into the way the university handled reports of sexual assaults.

The supporters note the loss of 12 scholarships was the fourth highest penalty handed out by the NCAA since 2008. In comparison, Ohio State lost nine scholarships after players were found to have been selling or trading their autographs for services and receiving payments for work not performed while the coach covered up knowledge of the violations.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com