The president of the Tustin, Calif., Pop Warner football league and the coach of an elite team there have been suspended while the national organization investigates allegations that 10 and 11-year-old players were offered cash incentives as high as $50 to intentionally injure their opponents.
"We take this matter very seriously and have asked Tustin Pop Warner head coach Darren Crawford and Tustin President Pat Galentine to step down until this situation is finalized," executive director of Pop Warner, Jon Butler, said in a statement.
With a 12-1 record last season and and an appearance at the Pop Warner Super Bowl, the Cobras were formidable opponents.
But according to allegations from some players and parents, the team was playing dirty.
Although an investigation by the Orange Empire Conference, where the complaint was initially filed, found no wrongdoing, National Pop Warner officials decided to reopen the case "in light of new information and players coming forward," Butler said.
A local designee not affiliated with the program has been asked to spearhead an investigation that is expected to last several weeks, according to Pop Warner officials.
Parents claimed that Crawford and former assistant coach Richard Bowman paid players when they took out their opponents in playoff games.
In one instance, a Cobras player was allegedly paid after a running back from Santa Margarita suffered a mild concussion and had to leave the field, the Orange County Register reported.
Crawford and Galentine have denied the allegations of a bounty program at Tustin Pop Warner.
Interim president Mark Gutierrez said he was "deeply saddened by claims of an alleged bounty program at our league" in a letter to parents.
"It is important that our children have the opportunity to play football in the most supportive environment possible," he said.
Earlier this year, an NFL investigation found the New Orleans Saints operated on a pay-for-pain system from the 2009 season, when they won the Super Bowl, until 2011.
Four players were suspended for their leadership roles in the system, however they were reinstated after they appealed.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season after an investigation found he had knowledge of the bounty program, ESPN reported.
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