To say a lot has happened since the last time I decided to type out my thoughts on the current state of the University Montana football program would be a gross understatement.
And the last time I said anything publicly about it, the coach had been fired and the athletic director canned too.
Here we are in June and the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and the NCAA are all currently conducting investigations in Missoula. The DOJ is looking into 80 sexual assault cases in the county of Missoula and how they were handled, while the DOE is conducting an investigation into a possible sexual harassment situation involving the Grizzly football team.
The NCAA, which is the big blow to the football program, hasn’t specified why it’s investigating the program, but the sexual assault scandal surrounding the university obviously brought the NCAA into what has now become a ridiculous mess for the entire school.
And that’s kind of where I’m sitting right now. My frustration level has grown exponentially because people are not getting a clear message as to what is going on in Missoula these days.
And for that problem I place the blame at the feet of the university itself. Transparency is paramount when a school is in a mess like this, and the school and its administration has been anything but transparent through all of this.
The biggest example of that is the fact the NCAA has been investigating the Griz football program since January, yet the school decided to only make that fact public last week.
I’ve followed college athletics for the better part of two decades and I have never seen an example of a major sports program waiting nearly sixth months to announce that it’s being investigated by the NCAA.
And it’s that kind of misleading and misguided policy making by the UM that has led to so many false reports, rumors, innuendos and so much embarrassment for the school and its football program.
To say that I’m disappointed in the school I love and its football program is putting it mildly. But because I believe UM has mishandled this thing from a public relations standpoint so poorly, the football program (which is why I’m putting this column on the sports page in the first place) has unnecessarily become the face of a sexual assault problem that is so much more far reaching.
The media, of which I’m a proud member, has, through rumor and misinformation, made the Grizzly football team the dark and sinister figure in this debacle when in fact, one Grizzly football has been charged with any type of a sex crime since Bobby Hauck took over for Joe Glenn in 2002.
That’s right, I’ll say it again. One Griz football player has been arrested or charged with a sex crime since Bobby Hauck took over for Joe Glenn in 2002.
That, ladies and gentleman is a fact that cannot be disputed.
Now, that does not mean Griz football players are innocent little angels, and it certainly doesn't mean that other Griz football players aren't guilty of all sorts of things. We've seen it in the past and I'm sure we'll see it in the future.
But what's so wrong with dealing in facts, things we know, things we can prove? And right now, all we know is that one Grizzly football player, who is now an ex-Griz football player has been charged with a sex crime — not 80, not 18, not eight, but one.
However, thanks to a blatant amount of bad information, and of the UM’s complete mishandling of information, the football program has been plastered on CNN, the front page of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
I sat in horror the day CNN did its feature story on the Missoula sexual assault scandal, and watched as one of the leaders in world news proudly previewed the segment by saying that the “University of Montana was being investigated by the Department of Justice for its handling of 80 sexual assaults on campus, many involving the football team.”
That information was so far from the truth it’s astonishing, and anybody who has been following the issue knows it’s the city of Missoula, which includes the university that is being investigated by the DOJ. They are looking into 80 cases city and county wide, and according to sources at the university, very few of them are on-campus assaults, while even fewer involve the football program.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I am happy with the Griz football program, because I’m not. In fact, I’m downright ashamed and embarrassed. The fact that now former-Griz Beau Donaldson is about to be on trial for rape disgusts me because I’m disgusted anytime a Griz football player commits a crime and I, like many, wish it would never ever happen.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Griz football program needs some cleaning up, not unlike every single NCAA Division I football program in the country. I want to see every player that wears the maroon and silver do the right things off the field in their four or five years in Missoula, and I especially want to see them treat women with respect and class, as all men should do.
And to get to that point, if the program has to go through some tough times, so be it.
However, I do not think the program should have to go through tough times based solely on rumors, innuendos and false assumptions. I do not think the program, and especially, its players and coaches who do do the right things off the field should have to suffer because of lies and mismanagement of information by the higher-ups in Montana higher education.
But that’s a big part of the problem, and the university I love so much is as much responsible for the possible demise of its power-house football program as the ONE player who is on trial for a sex crime is responsible for it.
And again, that fact is indisputable. One UM football player since 2002 has been arrested or charged with a sex crime, yet the Montana football program is the face of a sexual-assault scandal that has garnered national attention.
To me, that just doesn’t add up, and I’d really like to know how that’s being addressed and furthermore, how it’s going to be fixed.