Favoritism, finance and football at IUP

A Civic Project story: Tales from the huddle

By Cody J. Benjamin

INDIANA – James Griffin Jr., of Wallingford, Pa., attended a team meeting shortly after three of his fellow Indiana University of Pennsylvania football players were arrested in September 2012.

James Griffin Jr

James Griffin Jr. All photos: IUP Athletics Department, except where noted.

Griffin, a former defensive back, said he remembers when Errol Brewster, De’Antwan “Rocket” Williams and Jerell McFadden were detained on suspicion of drug activity.

Four days after the incident, Brewster was off the team.

Head coach Curtis J. “Curt” Cignetti, in his second year with IUP at the time, told players it was “Errol’s final straw,” Griffin, who now lives in Philadelphia, said in a Nov. 4 phone interview.

“We hold our student-athletes to a higher standard,” Cignetti said, a remark reported in The Indiana Gazette.

But in this case, only one of the three athletes was held to the higher standard, players say. And Cignetti’s standards have prompted many players — current and former, starters and backups alike — to speak out about double standards and favoritism, some of it linked to financial contributions and family connections, some to influential alumni.

To verify the players’ allegations, more than 40 sources were contacted for this story, including nearly two dozen current and former players, seven IUP administrators, four coaches and seven other sources. Four sources were granted anonymity because they said their comments would jeopardize ongoing relationships with the IUP football program.

Quid pro quo? ‘That’s just how society is.’

Details of the allegations outwardly may reflect personal grievances. But an overarching theme among players and college football officials is preferential treatment and other inequities embedded in NCAA Division II sports, much of it rooted in financial pressure. However, the problems cited by players and others involve no violations of law or NCAA rules, officials said.

Allegations of favoritism in IUP’s football program might simply be a result of financial loopholes in Division II athletics. Unlike Division I schools, D-II teams aren’t as obligated to dedicate money to full scholarships, as outlined by IUP Athletics.

The possibility that players will perceive unfair treatment, then, is great, according to former players and Rick Allen, a former compliance director.

Allen, who owns a NCAA rules-and-regulations consulting service called Informed Athlete, has more than 25 years of administrative experience with Oklahoma State University and the University of Illinois.

In a Nov. 10 phone interview, Allen said claims of favoritism linked to players’ family donations represent a “common scenario” in Division II sports.

He confirmed the legality of NCAA donations from families of active players and said “there are a number of underfunded” D-II programs that rely on external donations for help.

Two offensive players – one currently on the IUP team and one who played for IUP from 2010-2011 – said claims of favoritism are merely a result of the business of college sports.

They said D-II players with family money or Division I links can be favored by coaches pressured to improve a program. But nothing prohibits that from occurring.

Both IUP players requested and were granted anonymity because of ongoing associations with IUP’s football program and its staff.

A pair of former IUP All-Americans – running back Harvie Tuck, the second all-time leading rusher in school history, and linebacker Carl Fleming  – said accusations of favoritism are nothing new when it comes to Division II sports.

“Dealing with football at that level, there’s just a lot of politics behind certain things,” Fleming said in an Oct. 25 phone interview.

Tuck agreed.

“I mean, at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to politics and favorites,” Tuck wrote in an Oct. 28 text message. “But what doesn’t always revert back to that in today’s society?”

Jeremiah McPhearson, who played for IUP from 2012-2013, echoed Tuck.

“That’s how the world is,” he said. “When it comes down to who’s donating money, that stuff is definitely real. But I try not to let that bother me because that’s just how society is.”

Double standards

Errol L. Brewster, 22, was a starting defensive lineman for IUP at the time of his arrest on Sept. 23, 2012, according to The Gazette.

Indiana Borough Police detained Brewster along with his South Sixth Street apartment roommates, Williams and McFadden.

Erroll Brewster

Errol Brewster

All three faced charges of possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana, said District Attorney Patrick Dougherty in a Nov. 13 interview at the Indiana Courthouse on Philadelphia Street.

Only Brewster’s charges were filed. On Sept. 25, he was released on a $10,000 bond, according to Magisterial District Court docket sheets on the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal. The other two players prepared for IUP’s next game the following week.

Williams’ charges were “withdrawn by the DA,” said Borough Chief of Police William C. Sutton in an Oct. 29 interview at his office on 80 North 8th Street. He said the running back was fined for disorderly conduct.

De'Antwan Williams copy

De’Antwan Williams

Police said they had no record of arrest for McFadden, whose charges were expunged, according to Dougherty.

Cignetti didn’t hesitate to move on from Brewster. The coach dismissed him from the team four days after his arrest. But, according to former players, the coach took a different approach in situations involving Williams and others, particularly starters or transfers from bigger programs.

“When it came to Rocket, he was a lot more lenient,” Griffin said in a Nov. 4 phone interview. “There was definitely favoritism.”

Williams, who in fall 2012 was new to the team as a transfer from Rutgers University, played two more full seasons with IUP after receiving the team’s backing in an appeal to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility in 2013, according to IUP’s website.

But Williams, according to docket sheets, had two other run-ins with the law. In March 2013, police charged him with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, for which he received accelerated disposition through probation. But on Oct. 27, 2014, the District Court also filed a criminal complaint for DUI charges dating from March 2013.

In an Oct. 23 text message, Williams said he thinks IUP player discipline depends on “the coaches’ call” and “how much you’ve been in trouble.”

McFadden had a brief criminal history, too. Six months before the September 2012 incident that led to Brewster’s dismissal, police charged him with disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and similar misconduct, according to the state’s judicial Web portal.

McFadden didn’t respond to text messages or emails requesting comment.

Less than a year after Brewster’s departure, IUP welcomed transfer players Drew Carswell, Eric Williams and Michael Larrow.

Larrow, according to The Newark Star-Ledger, was suspended by Rutgers University after an arrest for simple assault in 2012. The charges were dropped, but Larrow was dismissed roughly 10 months later for an aggravated-assault charge in a domestic case.

Carswell and Williams, from the University of Pittsburgh, were both detained in a 2013 SWAT-led Oakland drug bust on April 25 that, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, uncovered 20 stamp bags of heroin at the players’ home.

Charges against Carswell and Williams were eventually dropped. But the incident resulted in their dismissal from Pitt’s team, according to reports by KDKA-TV.

Griffin, who played for IUP from 2012-2013, said the addition of the troubled Pitt players highlighted Cignetti’s “double standards” and convinced Griffin to leave the team in the summer of 2014 while he was a junior.

The situation that unfolded with Brewster’s dismissal reminded him of those concerns.

“Errol’s situation is crazy: He got kicked off over a weed charge, and then you bring these Pitt guys in,” Griffin said. “That’s, like, completely against what you just preached to your players.”

Former wide receiver Pat Brewer, an All-PSAC honoree who played for IUP from 2010-2013, said transfers from NCAA Division I programs were all but forgiven for legal transgressions because of their athletic reputations.

Pat Brewer

Pat Brewer

“The D-I players who were brought in all had gotten in trouble for one thing or another,” Brewer wrote in a Nov. 12 Facebook message. “But they were D-I players, so obviously they had a step up on all of us talent-wise, so of course they were forgiven and brought to the program to better us.”

The favoritism that arose, Griffin said, was “very unfortunate” and “just so high school.”

Another issue involved former IUP tight end Khaliq J. Coleman, who said he was dismissed after an underage drinking citation in March 2013. Despite passing three separate drug tests, Coleman said in a Nov. 4 phone interview that coaches previously told him in meetings he was “on a tightrope.”

But former offensive lineman Byron J. Dovales, who spent four years playing at IUP, can be seen in the same YouTube video featuring Coleman that shows underage drinking and campus riots. An All-PSAC honoree, Dovales was charged with theft and stolen property in Indiana in 2011, according to The Indiana Gazette. Those charges were dropped, but court docket sheets revealed Dovales also had charges of disorderly gatherings on private property in 2012.

Jeremiah McPhearson, Coleman’s teammate from 2012-2013, said in a Nov. 7 phone interview that some players, Dovales included, will support Cignetti, but the “whole reason is because they’re his favorites.”

Jeremiah McPhearson

Jeremiah McPhearson

Dovales did not respond to questions in a Nov. 17 Facebook message.

IUP SPOKESWOMAN Michelle S. Fryling, in an Oct. 29 voicemail, Oct. 29 phone call and Nov. 6 email, said she could only refer to the university’s Student Code of Conduct. She did not identify any specific provisions.

The conduct code includes policies for student alcohol violations and procedures for other first-time and repeated violations. But there are no sections specifically tailored to athletic suspensions or expulsions.

Neither she nor athletic director Frank Condino, who did not respond to an Oct. 13 email, could clarify guidelines for player dismissals and the discretion of coaches.

“Anyone that’s a student is held accountable through the student conduct and the judicial code,” Fryling said in the voicemail. “And then student athletes, of course, are held accountable in that same way.”

In two Oct. 27 phone calls and an Oct. 30 text message, Cignetti declined to comment on Brewster’s situation because the player’s arrest was a legal matter. He directed questions to Fryling and associate athletic director/compliance officer Steve Roach.

In an Oct. 27 phone call, Roach declined to comment. He said he was “not fully on staff” at the time of Brewster’s incident.

Not even a ‘strike one’

Markell Jefferson, an IUP football player in 2013, said in a Nov. 5 phone interview that he earned a second-string role after walking on without scholarship, only to be dismissed after head coach Cignetti thought Jefferson made negative comments about him.

Jefferson, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, said he stayed at school for the summer prior to the season to work out with coaches, having unsuccessfully tried out for the team on two previous occasions. Even though he wasn’t invited to attend IUP’s training camp until a week prior, he said he never missed a practice and even played hurt.

Markell Jefferson

Markell Jefferson, from his Facebook page

At camp with a numberless jersey, he said he earned multiple roles for two scrimmages. His cornerbacks coach, Tyler Scudder, told him he was working his way up the depth chart, according to Jefferson.

Then, one day at practice while running laps, Jefferson said Cignetti mistook another player’s complaint about the coaching staff as his.

Another player, Jefferson said, admitted to him that he told Cignetti about things he thought Jefferson said. But the player apparently also went back to clear things up with Cignetti after he realized he was mistaken.

Nonetheless, a week before the Crimson Hawks’ 2013 season opener, Jefferson said he was called into Cignetti’s office.

“I run a small ship,” the coach said, according to Jefferson in a Nov. 5 phone interview.

Cignetti allegedly told Jefferson he knew he wasn’t content with being a scout-team player.

At that point, Jefferson said he was confused. He said he told Cignetti he figured the team wanted players whose goal was to play.

“He was, like, ‘Well, I run a small ship here, and I think I’m going to have to let you go,’” Jefferson said. “That damn near brought me to tears.”

Before he even got to his locker in Memorial Field House, IUP’s practice facility next to George P. Miller Stadium, Jefferson said someone was there packing up his belongings.

“I didn’t even get a strike one,” he said.

“Markell never did anything,” McPhearson said in a Nov. 7 phone interview. “So it’s as if you had to find or make something up (to dismiss him).”

Not long afterward, Jefferson said he got a call from Scudder, his cornerbacks coach, who was wondering why he wasn’t at a meeting. He told him he had been kicked off the team, and the coach thought he was lying.

Scudder, who now coaches at Duquesne University, did not respond to a Nov. 10 email.

A few players asked Cignetti about Jefferson’s dismissal, according to Jefferson. He said the coach first wouldn’t talk about it, then started making things up about what he had said.

IUP football head coach Curt Cignetti

IUP football head coach Curt Cignetti

Cignetti declined to comment.

Jefferson said he was later offered a chance to return to the team – only to practice, not to play in games – but he declined because he no longer wanted to play in the program.

“I’ve never been arrested,” Jefferson said. “I had good grades. It obviously wasn’t a question of my character. So I felt like it was something personal.”

One time, Jefferson said, Cignetti told the players he was going to make them run early in the morning. Teammates told the coach they had classes in the morning.

Cignetti’s response, according to Jefferson, was, “You’re not here to go to school to get a degree. You’re here to play football.”

McPhearson said he remembered Cignetti repeating those words in fall of 2012.

Cignetti declined comment.

An ‘ugly face’

For McPhearson, 2012 was a season to learn from his teammates and coaches as a redshirt player, according to the former cornerback’s bio on IUP’s athletics website. But McPhearson said he left the team that year after an unexpected encounter with Cignetti.

One day after practice in October 2012, the team huddled around the coach as usual. All seemed normal as McPhearson kneeled next to teammate Jordan Batts. But Cignetti apparently didn’t like the look on McPhearson’s face.

McPhearson, in a Nov. 7 phone interview, said he was doing nothing more than paying attention to his coach. But as the players began to split, he was taken aback by Cignetti’s words.

“J-Mac, if you make another one of those ugly faces, I’m kicking you off the team,” Cignetti said, according to McPhearson.

McPhearson said he felt embarassed by Cignetti’s comments, especially because he was a player who often kept to himself. And when he asked for an apology or an explanation from the coach, he said all he got in return were complaints about more questionable behavior.

After practice, McPhearson said he went to Cignetti’s office, where he was told other coaches were unhappy with the cornerback slouching in meetings. After McPhearson denied the accusation, he said Cignetti told him he also got reports of the player talking during meetings.

McPhearson said he repeatedly asked Cignetti to name the other coaches he was referencing. He said if coaches had complained and not said anything to him themselves, he wanted to “iron out” the complaints or at least apologize to them.

Cignetti, according to McPhearson, refused to invite any of the other coaches to join the conversation, let alone identify them.

McPhearson said he responded to Cignetti: “First, it was I made a bad face at practice. Second, it was I was slouching in my chair in the meetings, and then now I was talking. So you just told me three different lies right in my face, so which one is true?”

After Cignetti again denied requests to bring the other coaches into the office, McPhearson said he had enough. He decided to leave the team.

“I feel like I’m an ant, that I don’t really matter,” McPhearson said.

In 2013, he said IUP defensive coordinator Paul Tortorella called him and said the team needed cornerbacks. McPhearson, who plans to finish his degree at IUP in 2015 after attending a community college in 2014, returned and said he was grateful for the opportunity.

But his previous qualms with the program opened his eyes to other situations.

“There’s a lot of stories that aren’t really spoken about,” he said. “It’s like they’re just kind of thrown to the side.”

An eight-helmet donation

Favoritism among coaches based on outside donations from players’ families was another issue in the IUP football program, according to former players.

“If they feel like you’re not a starter or a star, they’re going to treat you like s—,” Jefferson, the cornerback dismissed because of his apparent complaints at practice, said in a Nov. 5 phone interview. “If your family isn’t donating money, they’re going to treat you like s—.”

Brewer, IUP’s former All-PSAC receiver, said in a Nov. 12 Facebook message that he believes player families “have a great impact on playing time and also your spot on the team.”

Most teammates, Brewer said, were accustomed to hearing about how much each player benefited from donations, “because everyone likes to brag about it.” However, Brewer said teammates didn’t want to speak up about favoritism because it would have hurt their status with the team.

Brewster, the defensive linemen dismissed in September 2012, said at least five different players either had a connection to the NFL or some source of money or connections, which translated to a starting position on the team.

Quarterback Mike Box, a University of Connecticut transfer who spent the 2011-2013 seasons with IUP and now plays in the Arena Football League, may have been one beneficiary, according to seven former players.

Mike Box

Mike Box

Box’s dad bought eight helmets for certain players, according to current and former team members. Soon after, Box started at quarterback.

Box’s predecessor, 2012 graduate Pat Smith, completed four of 10 passes with an interception in the Sept. 22 game in which he was replaced by Box. But several players said Box’s family donations may have played a factor in the QB’s promotion.

Smith declined comment.

A teammate of Brewster from 2010-2012 who now works in Florida and requested anonymity because of ongoing associations with the IUP football program said in an Oct. 25 text message that he also noticed the helmet purchases.

The helmets were “better, safer and the newest model at the time,” according to Brewster.

Griffin said Box’s donations fueled “definite favoritism.”

Box’s father, Blaise, responded to an Oct. 26 email. He acknowledged that he did buy equipment for IUP but declined to comment on the rules and regulations governing donations.

“My company, Staging and Design, Inc., did purchase a few helmets for the program, given the need and limited resources of the program,” Blaise Box wrote.

“I had no input in how these helmets would be dispersed to players,” Box wrote. “That was at the sole discretion of the coaches. All my interaction went through the Director of Football Operations.”

Allegations that Box also purchased the team’s championship rings after IUP’s 2012 PSAC title could not be verified. Box did not respond to a Nov. 19 email requesting comment.

In an Oct. 27 voicemail, Cignetti said all donations by Box were “legal.”

Who’s your daddy?

Another situation that may have been influenced by donations, players said, involved a pair of sibling Division I transfers in defensive linemen Greg and Shane Meisner.

The Meisners joined IUP from the University of Kentucky and Rutgers University in 2012. They are the sons of Greg Meisner Sr., a former NFL defensive lineman who serves as athletic director for Hempfield Area School District in western Pennsylvania.

On the first day that the Meisner brothers took the field, players said, Greg was given a starting position without competition. The players added that they witnessed the Meisners’ father come to practices and said they heard that he donated money to the program.

There is also no record of discipline for Shane, who, in 2013, according to Jefferson in a Nov. 5 phone interview, “beat up” volunteer coach Jason Warning in a physical altercation at practice.

Shane Meisner

Shane Meisner

In a Nov. 6 Facebook message, Warning neither confirmed nor denied the allegation.

“I’ll get back to you on that one,” he said.

An Oct. 27 voice mail left at Meisner Sr.’s office was not returned.

IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling said she could not comment on any of the allegations involving the Meisners.

Andrew DeGol, a redshirt sophomore safety, is another current player who former teammates said may have benefited from donations.

Jefferson said DeGol is a good player and “a cool guy,” but “he does what he wants.”

When it was time to request jersey numbers for the 2013 season, Jefferson said DeGol told him Cignetti had “no choice” but to give DeGol No. 28, his high school number, “because of his dad.”

At the time, Jefferson said he laughed it off. But he said he later heard from team staff members that coaches – jokingly or not – wanted DeGol to graduate as soon as possible so that his father “could hurry up and buy something to donate to the football program.”

DeGol did not respond to a Nov. 9 email.

An IUP defensive player from 2011-2012 who requested anonymity because of ongoing associations with the IUP football program said many on the team knew certain players were getting looks because their families had given money to the school.

Former players, including Brewer and Griffin, said IUP quarterback Chase Haslett may have – knowingly or not – benefited from family donations, too.

Haslett was named the winner of a 2014 preseason QB competition that featured Indiana High School’s Logan Weaver, who later left the team two weeks into the season, according to The Indiana Gazette.

“As far as DeGol and also Haslett,” Brewer said, “both players come from wealthy families which donated to the team. But were they better than guys who were denied a spot or that play their position? No.”

Chase Haslett

Chase Haslett

Haslett is the son of Jim Haslett, a 1979 IUP graduate, former NFL player (1979-1987) and the Washington Redskins’ current defensive coordinator.

Daniel Sampson, a Redskins spokesman, said in an Oct. 28 phone call he would pass along requests for confirmation of Jim Haslett’s donations. Neither Sampson nor Haslett responded to follow-up emails and phone calls requesting comment.

Chase Haslett confirmed his father donated to the program. But he said that has been the case since long before he transferred to IUP from the University of Illinois.

“Where he’s at today, his background and his journey, started at IUP,” Haslett said in a Nov. 18 interview at Crimson Commons in Indiana, Pa. “It’s not like he’s been donating money just one year. He’s been donating money, like, 15, 20 years, for as long as I can think of.”

FRYLING SAID in a Nov. 12 email she could not comment because she didn’t know whether Jim Haslett is an IUP donor. He is not listed on any of IUP’s public donor societies. But Fryling said “donations can be anonymous.”

Erik Templeton, IUP’s head of fiscal affairs/football operations, did not respond to an Oct. 27 email, an Oct. 28 phone call or an Oct. 29 follow-up email requesting comment about regulations for donations, including those by Box, Meisner and others.

In a Nov. 7 text message and phone call, Cignetti declined comment on any allegations and redirected questions to Fryling.

Both Rhonda Luckey, IUP’s vice president for student affairs, and Steve Roach, IUP’s associate athletic director/compliance officer, directed questions to Fryling.

Cody J. Benjamin, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Lancaster, Pa.


Sidebar: Case study of a fall guy?

Errol Brewster, the former defensive lineman who was dismissed from the IUP football team in September 2012, said there was more to the story of his departure, including judicial decisions he claimed were influenced by those in the athletics department.

After he was detained along with two teammates, De’Antwan Williams and Jerell McFadden, Brewster said coach Curt Cignetti tried to protect the other players — but not him.

“Cignetti called my mom and was telling my mom to tell me to take the blame for everything so he could get the other guys out of it,” Brewster said in an Oct. 25 phone interview.

Brewster said Cignetti “really tied it in with” Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and local law enforcement officials to get Brewster off the team and dismissed from school.

Dougherty, in a Nov. 13 interview at the Indiana Courthouse on Philadelphia Street, said the facts presented by police supported charges – drug possession with intent to deliver – against only Brewster, but “not because of IUP athletics having anything to do with it.”

He confirmed that IUP and local law enforcement officials communicated about the case, but only to gather facts. He said the drugs were “clearly in one guy’s possession when the other two guys – by all accounts, they’re sitting there watching a damn movie.”

[Listen to Patrick Dougherty interview here.]

Brewster, in a Nov. 14 text message, denied that claim. He said the drugs were found in the living room, where the other two players “were rolling weed” when he answered the door of his South Sixth Street apartment.

“Any time somebody’s treated differently than the other two charged,” Dougherty said, “they feel they were slighted.”

After his parents bailed him out of jail, Brewster said he tried to speak with Cignetti.

“He told me he had heard all of the facts, that he knew everything he needed to hear already,” he said.

Brewster also cited difficulties with IUP after his dismissal.

NCAA rules required Cignetti to approve Brewster’s release from IUP for the lineman to play elsewhere. Since the coach refused to do so, Brewster was ineligible.

A staff member in the NCAA’s national legislative office confirmed in an Oct. 31 phone call that Brewster won’t require IUP’s release after the spring 2015 semester, so long as he fulfills academic requirements at his new school, California University of Pennsylvania.

However, no rule restricted IUP from releasing him earlier, the NCAA office said.

Searching for clarity, Brewster said he went back to IUP to meet with Cignetti.

“I said, ‘Coach, why won’t you just release me? You’re messing up my life; this is affecting my family (and) messing up my graduation from college,’” he said.

Once again, however, Brewster said Cignetti turned him away.

“He basically rushed me out of his office, told me, ‘Hurry up and get out,’” he said. “Then he texted me and said, ‘I’m not releasing you.’”

Brewster said Cignetti wanted him to transfer to Shepherd University in the Mountain East Conference. In later phone calls, Brewster said the two argued “about him not wanting me on his schedule and not wanting to play against me.”

In front of an athletic department committee in 2012, Brewster said he appealed IUP’s refusal to release him, but Cignetti “did all he could to fight” his chances of playing for a competitive program.

“At the time, I was a kid,” Brewster said. “Now I’m a 22-year-old man, and I’m still paying for problems that could have easily been avoided.”

Cignetti declined comment. McFadden didn’t respond to text messages or emails requesting comment. Williams, in an Oct. 23 text message, said IUP was helpful in overcoming the incident.


Sidebar: Patrick Dougherty, team player

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty. Photo credit: Indiana County District Attorney’s office website

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty. Photo credit: Indiana County District Attorney’s office website

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty is listed on the IUP Athletics website as a sponsoring underwriter of the IUP Athletics Hall of Fame and member of IUP’s College Council, which includes “those who have supported IUP with gifts of $500 to $1,249,” according to the university website.

Dougherty, in a Dec. 8, 2012, photo on IUP’s Facebook page, was also identified as “Team Manager” for IUP football in 1985. His father, Owen, was the school’s head football coach from 1979-1981 and is memorialized by IUP’s Owen J. Dougherty Field, the home of Crimson Hawks baseball on the school’s south campus.

And in an Oct. 9 post on his Twitter account, Dougherty listed IUP senior defensive lineman Shane Meisner as a “great intern for my office.”

Dougherty’s brother, Robert, is also listed as an underwriter. Robert, an Indiana, Pa., defense attorney, represented former IUP players De’Antwan Williams and Terrill Barnes in Magisterial District Court and Court of Common Pleas Court cases, according to Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System Web Portal.

Dougherty said he “grew up in the Memorial Field House,” IUP’s practice facility.

“So if you walk into my office, you’re going to see a lot of IUP football, baseball paraphernalia,” he said in a Nov. 13 interview at Indiana Courthouse. “That’s what I was raised with.”

But Dougherty said he likes to think he holds IUP athletes to a higher standard.

“My theory is, ‘I didn’t act that way,’” he said. “Don’t do something that’s going to bring disrespect on my degree, your degree and everyone that’s passed through that university.”


Boxscore: Coach Cignetti’s record at IUP

Following is Curtis J. “Curt” Cignetti’s record of wins and losses as head coach of IUP’s football program since his arrival in 2011:

year overall record conference record standing (PSAC west)
2011 7-3 5-2 3rd
2012 12-2 6-1 1st
2013 9-2 5-2 2nd
2014 6-5 5-4 5th

Source: Wikipedia

Sidebar: IUP football finances, compared

Following are spending and revenue figures for Indiana University of Pennsylvania men’s varsity football and men’s varsity basketball for academic year 2014-2015.

sport spending revenue
football $1,664,215 $1,432,022
basketball 757,466 950,164

Source: Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (ope.ed.gov/athletics)


Sidebar: Stats: IUP football players’ legal records

Indiana University of Pennsylvania linebacker Alexander Berdahl was indefinitely suspended by head football coach Curtis J. “Curt” Cignetti after a 2011 arrest on charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest and underage drinking in Indiana, Pa., according to WPXI-TV.

In each of the three years he played for IUP after the arrest, Berdahl was publicized as one of the faces of Crimson Hawks football. He was featured on the cover of IUP’s media guides from 2012-2014.

No one has questioned Berdahl’s status as a celebrated starter for IUP, which won 28 of 35 games and advanced to Division II quarterfinals in Coach Curt Cignetti’s first three seasons.

But Berdahl is one of several current or former IUP football players under Cignetti to have run-ins with the law, according to Pennsylvania’s judicial system website.

Player Incident Location Incident Date Charges Athletic Result
WR Terrill Barnes Lackawanna/Indiana 2011/2012 Possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct (withdrawn)/DUI (withdrawn) Suspended; played 2011-2013
DL Jordan Batts Indiana 2014 Disorderly conduct Played 2011-present
LB Alexander Berdahl Indiana 2011 Criminal trespass, resisting arrest, escape, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and underage drinking (charges unavailable via online docket sheets) Suspended; played 2010-2014
RB Darian Bradley Indiana 2013 Disorderly conduct (withdrawn) Played 2013-present
DL Errol Brewster Indiana 2012 Possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana Dismissed four days after arrest
WR Drew Carswell Allegheny 2013 Use/possession of drug paraphernalia (withdrawn) Played 2013-2014
TE Khaliq Coleman Indiana 2013 Underage drinking Dismissed 17 days after citation
OL Byron Dovales Indiana 2011/2012 Theft and stolen property (withdrawn)/disorderly gatherings on private property  Played 2010-2013
LB Carl Fleming Oakland, Pa. 2012 2 counts aggravated assault, resisting arrest, fleeing or eluding police, drug possession, tampering with evidence, vehicular offenses (charges unavailable via online docket sheets) Played 2012-2013
RB Izzy Green Indiana 2013 Disorderly conduct Played 2013-present
DL Michael Larrow New Brunswick, N.J. 2012/2013 Simple assault and disorderly conduct (withdrawn)/aggravated assault and criminal mischief Played 2013
CB Jerell McFadden Indiana 2011/2012 Disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and similar misconduct/Possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana (expunged) Played 2011-2014
WR Anthony Meriwether Indiana 2012 Public urination Played 2012
CB Ackeno Robertson Indiana 2014 Criminal mischief, damaging property intentionally, recklessly or by negligence (inactive case awaiting plea) Played 2012-present
OL Jorge Vicioso Indiana 2014 Theft of services (accelerated disposition/probation) Played 2013-2014
RB De’Antwan Williams Indiana 2012/2013 Possession with intent to deliver marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana (withdrawn)/disorderly conduct/DUI/resisting arrest and disorderly conduct (accelerated disposition/probation) Played 2012-2013
S Eric Williams Allegheny 2013 Use/possession of drug paraphernalia (withdrawn) Played 2013

Source: Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal


Sidebar: Sources for this story

Forty sources, organized below by category in alphabetical order by last name, were contacted for this story. Asterisks indicate sources who either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries.

Former/current IUP football players:

Teddy Blakeman*
Pat Brewer
Errol Brewster
Chris Brown*
Khaliq Coleman
Byron Dovales*
Edward Estes*
Andrew DeGol*
Carl Fleming
Montay Green*
James Griffin Jr.
Chase Haslett
Markell Jefferson
Randy Louis*
Dom Maggio*
Jerell McFadden*
Jeremiah McPhearson
Ben Sasu*
Akeem Smith*
Pat Smith*
Harvie Tuck
Logan Weaver*
De’Antwan Williams

IUP administrators/athletic department staff:   

Lisa Bash-Ward
Dr. Frank Condino
Michelle Fryling
Dr. Rhonda Luckey
Steve Roach
Erik Templeton
Sherri Yachup

Former/current IUP football coaches

Curt Cignetti
Tyler Scudder
Paul Tortorella
Jason Warning

Indiana, Pa., law enforcement

Patrick Dougherty
William Sutton

IUP football donors

Blaise Box
Jim Haslett (via Daniel Sampson)
Greg Meisner Sr.*

NCAA compliance administrators:

Rick Allen
Steve Roach

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8 Responses to Favoritism, finance and football at IUP

  1. J. Walker says:

    Pure slander on a fantastic program. Sources are solely unreliable degenerates seeking revenge. Two thumbs down to this article and the journalist. Will be sharing my opinion of Cody Benjamin with many.

  2. C. Hughes says:

    I see no slander. As a matter of fact the consistent identification and explanations of the people and circumstances of each point or example made it a tough read. But to avoid slander allegations this is necessary in today’s world. Especially for a young journalist.

    Double standards are a reality. A human trait only those with great character do not possess. Young men go into college at the same time they enter manhood. But as football players have been taught to believe in and be subservient to their coaches so remain immature. In this area of their lives their eyes are closed. Until they start entering these situations with open eyes and a complete understanding of their role and the coach’s manner of operating most will have frustrations described here.

  3. Terrell Holloway says:

    This is AAALLLLLL very true and accurate. In my opinion this is a nice article, giving the evil peperson Cignetti is. I am a former player and was present for everything that has been addressed in this article. He is NOT a good coach by any means, he is NOT a good person by any means, and he is NOT the reason we were a good team. “TERRELL HOLLOWAY”

  4. Jay Weed says:

    Good article, but, it hsppens at most schools, I’m sure.

  5. G. Harbourgh says:

    Sounds like a bunch of winey bias football players who were unsatisfied with their football careers or upset they could no longer be part of the team with very bias views for example
    1. James Griffin flunked out of IUP and for the teams sake thank god he did cause he wasn’t that good and was stealing the schools money if he was on any type of scholarship, he was easily the weakest link in the defense the year IUP almost went all the way and if Eric Williams was there that year IUP would have had a 1st week bye in the playoffs and possibly won it all he just sounds like he was salty Cignetti brought in Eric, a better D1 athlete to fill the hole in the defense that was James Griffin
    2. Pat Brewer hasn’t been a productive player since his freshman year and is probably upset Cignetti brought in better wide receivers but that’s the business. What he wanted Drew Carlswell not on the team so you could play more? boohoo he says kicking off Brewster and bringing in Drew is “against what he preaches” he couldn’t have saved Brewster if he wanted to, cause if this article is as true as Mr.Holloway states above good players got away with more correct? Well Brewster was a great player for IUP who kept getting better I’m pretty sure Cignetti would have saved him if he could have. Don’t knock Cignetti for giving guys second chances cause people like him are the reason Brewster was even given an opportunity to play for Cal after IUP correct?
    3. Markel Jefferson?? Who is that the fact that he has a facebook picture and does not even have a team picture in the article like the rest if the sources should tell us enough and makes his story very sketchy if he was as good as he claimed to be in the article someone would know who he is this sounds like a walk on blaming everything but the ability he did not have as to why he didn’t play, very bias and unreliable source there. If he is trying to claim he was treated unfairly cause he was a walk on then someone explain Dennis Kerstetter a walk on who did an exceptional job in special teams for IUP or Cole Kraut who was a walk on who earned a starting position before his freak injury they were both there the many times Mr.Jefferson tried out for the team why were they not contacted for this article and why do they have such better stories than this sob story of a walk on who was not good enough to play for IUP? Maybe he was treated unfairly but hey he was at the bottom if the totem pole and had to work his was up like the other guys did.
    4. As for Brewster drug dealers are not excepted in colleges and universities and students are expelled for such actions in any school. Cignetti couldn’t have saved him if he wanted and the fact that he wanted his roommates to go down with him is a cowardly act on his part. Cignetti had to cut his losses with him, and of course he won’t release his papers he was a great player for IUP who left to a rival team, look what Teddy Blakeman did to IUP each year he played them. We must all remember this game is a business taking it personally will only lead to bias articles such as this
    5. The who’s your daddy section is very contradictory to the McPherson story he comes from an athletic family with siblings as well as a father who played/play professional sports why was he not treated like Greg and Shane Miesner and given a starting role was he not that good or was Miesner that good? Wierd huh yeah McPhersons story sounds very unfortunate but like they say there is 3 sides to a story and in this case it’s McPhersons, Coach Cignettis and the truth
    The sources in this article are very bias and when reading you can tell most of these players have personal vendettas against coach Cignetti and it’s very unfair the way the team is represented you don’t win that many games with all these “issues”. If those players who these guys claim got away with more didn’t IUP would not have came anywhere close to winning the PSAC and almost national championship so it sounds like Cignetti is trying to cover up any players legal issues he can and the ones he can’t save are upset by such actions in no way is this a defense for Coach Cignetti cause I’m sure he did play favorites to better players the same a CEO would favorite his top earners compared to the bottom ones notice no player of any significance to IUP’s success bashed Cignetti the way that the disgruntled players did which is why I believe there is a lot of bias and fabrication in this article. Unfortunately that’s the life we live in and like they say “The sad truth is that we are all equal some are just more equal than others” and IUP’s football program has bigger issues than this to write an article about. Such as why so many players on the team are not graduating from IUP and why we have players coming in strictly for football and not education this a University football team athletes who have no intentions to graduate or receive any form of degree should not be playing college football why is it that we call them Student-Athletes (notice the student comes 1st) save the scholarship dollars for young men who want to make something of there lives and use football as a stepping stone to succeed in life is that not what college sports are for? Not to come to IUP and party and play football that’s why IUP has the party school stigma it has now but at the end of the day Cignetti is just trying to win football games at the best if his ability and before this pathetic season he was doing a great job of it

  6. Kathryn Kornacki says:

    Why is the subject of Coach Cignetti picking the players of how much money they donating to the footballl program is brought up now? Why they did not investigate earlier when he first started coaching at IUP or picking his favorites players when they have games when he first started coaching at IUP why that subject is brought up now? If the allegations were true. Then that’s not right he picked the players based on skilled not how much money is being donating to the program. I feel that the subject of Coach Cignetti picking the players based on skilled or how much money they are donating to the football program is hard to prove because you have a lot of evidence to prove that he is actually doing that or not he is not doing that. I did not like the fact Chase Haslett and Andrew Degol were brought as one of the wealthiest families to donating money to the football program because who cares if they are one of the wealthiest families that is donating money to the football game. They should be not judged based on how much money that they have. They should be judged based on how skilled they have comes to football or how they treated you as person. I never saw Chase or Andrew as being one of the wealthiest families who donates money to the football program. I saw them as normal person just like you and me.

  7. Rich Ingold says:

    Wow is this article a bunch of nonsense!! Bunch of disgruntled former players…I can tell you if your the best player at your position you will play for IUP! Bunch of cheapshits at Curt which is part for immature college kids!! I find the article worthless!!!

  8. Morgan Paul says:

    Way to go Cody! Great article, hopefully it opens some peoples eyes.

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