UCF headed to Indianapolis for NCAA hearing
Officials from the University of Central Florida will be in Indianapolis on Friday for a hearing with the NCAA to determine whether the school's self-imposed penalties are sufficient following an investigation into major recruiting violations within its football and basketball programs.
A delegation from UCF that includes President John Hitt and new athletics director Todd Stansbury will appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions two months after implementing several penalties in response the allegations notice the school received in November saying the Knight's athletic programs were involved with runners for sports agents, and cash payments and gifts to recruits.
UCF's self-imposed sanctions include: Three years of probation, the vacation of all men's basketball victories for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, reducing its scholarships by one each of the next two years in basketball, and the reduction of recruiting days by both basketball and football coaches.
Hitt was unavailable for comment about the hearing, and Stansbury is declining to comment because the infractions occurred prior to him taking over. But UCF spokesman Grant Heston released a statement to The Associated Press that expressed optimism about the meeting.
''UCF has worked with the NCAA transparently and collaboratively, enhanced our athletics compliance efforts and self-imposed significant penalties,'' the statement said. ''We look forward to discussing these issues with the committee and answering its questions thoroughly.''
The NCAA won't comment on open cases, but typically it takes at least two months after the hearing before it renders a final decision.
Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky is currently serving on the committee, but NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson confirmed that members with direct connections to schools are automatically recused from those cases, per committee policy.
Keith Tribble resigned as UCF's athletic director in November, along with football assistant coach David Kelly after the NCAA cited both for unethical conduct for involvement Ken Caldwell, a reputed recruiter for a professional sports agency, and associate Brandon Bender had with school officials and athletes.
In addition, UCF basketball coach Donnie Jones was suspended by Hitt for three conference games last season. O'Leary was not cited for wrongdoing in the NCAA's allegations' report, but has since received a letter of reprimand as part of UCF's self-imposed penalties, along with Jones and assistant men's basketball coach Darren Tillis.
Messages left for Tribble's attorney were not immediately returned, nor was a call to the home of Kelly. Both are expected to attend the hearing.
Specifically, the NCAA has said that Caldwell and Bender ''assisted the institution in the recruitment of six men's basketball players and five football perspective student-athletes'' through inducements including cash payments. It also said that Tribble, Caldwell and Jeff Lagos, a ''known representative of the institution's athletics interests, attempted to arrange employment'' for people involved.
Senior basketball player A.J. Rompza was the only athlete that ever wound up playing a game at UCF, Hitt has said previously.
In imposing its own penalties, UCF also acknowledged a lack of sufficient compliance within its programs, which it said were being addressed with the hiring of Stansbury.
At his news conference announcing Tribble's resignation, Hitt said that the school had put a lot of trust in him to assure they were in compliance with NCAA rules.
In a written response through his attorney in February to the NCAA's allegations Tribble acknowledged some improprieties, but claimed that until this case he ''had a very superficial and somewhat misinformed understanding of NCAA recruiting legislation.''
Stansbury said last month that he is already increasing compliance staffing in hopes of setting a new tone to assure UCF's coaches that it is a priority going forward. That is especially true with UCF preparing to move to the Big East Conference in 2013.
Rules compliance has been an issue at UCF before. The school just got off two years of NCAA probation in February after football staff members were cited for placing impermissible calls to perspective recruits over an 18-month period from 2007 to 2009.
Due that that previous major violation the school could be labeled as a repeat offender and face stiffer penalties for these latest infractions.
Gene Marsh served on the NCAA's Committee on Infractions for nine years and now is an attorney with Lightfoot, Franklin & White in Birmingham, Ala.
Marsh and the firm represented former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel before the committee last year.
While Marsh made it clear that he has no knowledge of UCF's case, he said that generally these hearings aren't as contentious as they are sometimes portrayed.
''A lot of times people envision this as a trial or tribunal, but it becomes almost immediately a discussion, he said. ''It's not a showdown at OK Corral, but more of a city council meeting.''
Marsh said there additional questions are sometimes asked by committee members that could extend the time before a final report is issue, but that schools typically don't wait more than three months for a decision.
''It's not going to be a happy day, but it's much less intense event than most people anticipate,'' he said.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.