NCAA punishes SFU football program

For the second time in less than four months, the Saint Francis football program has been punished by the NCAA, this time for what the governing body deemed as violations of ethical conduct rules.

The Red Flash were slapped with two years’ probation and other penalties by the NCAA on Thursday for providing extra benefits to players and for recruiting violations. The ruling comes on the heels of the football program failing to meet NCAA academic requirements and receiving a one-year postseason ban in May.

The NCAA’s public report lays out offenses by the Saint Francis head coach and a part-time assistant coach, although neither is named. Rules violations, the report states, occurred “from the summer of 2011 through the spring of 2013.”

Chris Villarrial has been head coach of the Red Flash for that entire period, and he remains in that position as the team gets set for its season opener today at Fordham.

It is not clear who the part-time assistant coach is in this matter. The language of the NCAA penalties appears to indicate he is still on the football staff.

The NCAA findings concluded: “The head coach, part-time assistant coach, two additional assistant football coaches and a booster arranged for or provided approximately $1,450 in lodging, transportation and meals to student-athletes and a student-athlete’s mother. Additionally, the head coach and an assistant coach participated in impermissible recruiting activities.”

The NCAA report went on to explain further details of the case. They include:

“Prior to preseason football practice during the summer of 2011, the head coach arranged for a student-athlete and his mother to stay at a booster’s home. The stay included impermissible lodging, meals and transportation. Later in 2011, the part-time assistant coach purchased a roundtrip plane ticket for the same student-athlete to fly home. Additionally, two other assistant coaches provided impermissible transportation to three student athletes in 2013.

“Over the period when the violations occurred, the coaches often chose not to attend departmental rules education sessions. The panel notes the coaches claimed a lack of awareness of the rules; however, they should have known they could not provide the benefits to the student-athletes.

“From June 2012 through May 2013, the head coach also impermissibly contacted prospects through text messages and excessive telephone calls. Additionally, an assistant coach publicly tweeted with a prospect for recruiting purposes, contrary to NCAA rules.”

Along with the two years’ probation, Saint Francis’ penalties are:

n A two-year show-cause order for Villarrial and one-year show-cause order for the part-time assistant coach.

A show-cause order is one of the strictest penalties handed down by the NCAA for coaches. If the coach seeks another job during the show-cause period, the hiring school must appear before the NCAA infractions committee, and the coach’s duties at that school could be limited for a period of time.

Because of those stipulations, coaches under a show-cause order are rarely hired for another job during their punishment period.

n Villarrial will be suspended for the first two conference games this season, Oct. 11 and 18. The part-time assistant coach will be suspended for the first conference game, which the NCAA report states is an “institution imposed” penalty.

n A reduction of one football game from this year’s schedule (which was self-imposed by Saint Francis).

n A ban on off-campus recruiting by part-time coach unless approved by high-ranking officials in the athletic department (self-imposed by the school).

n A fine of $5,000.

The Mirror left phone messages for both Villarrial and Saint Francis athletic director Bob Krimmel on Friday, but neither responded. A school spokesman said, “We won’t have any further comment outside of the statement that was posted to our website (Thursday).”

That statement, in part, reads as follows:

“The NCAA Committee on Infractions determined that Saint Francis University’s football program committed violations by providing extra benefits to a small number of student-athletes between 2011 and 2013 totaling $1,450. The head football coach and assistant football coaches attempted to assist student-athletes and a family member who were in difficult personal circumstances.

“The details include providing (1) transportation to or from campus to the Pittsburgh Airport, (2) purchasing airfare for a student-athlete to fly home to deal with a family emergency, and (3) arranging accommodations for the mother of an out-of-state incoming freshman student-athlete with a local family for three nights.?”Saint Francis University accepts the findings and the penalties as detailed in the Committee on Infractions Report.”