Central Florida will join the Big East conference officially next July in all sports, but an athletics program that had been on the rise has been crossing its fingers that an NCAA investigation would not result in crippling penalties. The investigation arose out of the former athletic director, Keith Tribble, and both football and men's basketball programs' involvement with Ken Caldwell, a runner for a sports agent, who was helping to steer recruits toward the Orlando school.
Six men's basketball recruits and five football recruits were found to be tied to Caldwell or Brandon Bender. Those players were found to have received $16,005.74 in impermissible benefits from Caldwell.
The school, was expected to win the C-USA crown this season in football and be a legitimate contender for an NCAA tournament bid in basketball. The NCAA penalties that will be announced today will prevent them from making the postseason in either sport this year.
According to Andy Katz of ESPN, the NCAA will issue a one-year ban on postseason participation for both programs today, in addition to accepting UCF's self-imposed penalties. At the outset of the investigation, the university opted to vacate two seasons of wins by the men's basketball program and reduce their scholarships by one for two seasons, the number of official visits that the programs will accept was reduced by 20%, and coaches are restricted in their ability to recruit off-campus -- the NCAA will accept those penalties.
The postseason ban means that any UCF seniors will be eligible to transfer and play elsewhere this season. That includes leading scorer Keith Clanton and point guard Marcus Jordan.
Tribble, as well as the assistant football coach who was directly connected to the scheme have resigned over the incident. Men's basketball coach Donnie Jones was suspended for three conference games without pay as well. Jones was also blocked from receiving any bonuses or pay increases until 2014.
Now, Jones will be handed a three-year show-cause, which will require him to attend NCAA rules seminars in 2013 and '14.
In addition, there will be monetary penalties as well as penalties under the NCAA bylaw 10.1, which covers "unethical conduct." These violations are considered major infractions by the NCAA.
The NCAA released a 16-page report detailing the violations back in November.
The Big East has been aware of the NCAA investigation and impending penalties throughout the process and was apparently not scared away from inviting the Knights because of it.
"I called [Big East] commissioner [John] Marinatto today…we talked a little about the events that led up to [today's press conference] and we also talked about [the Big East's] expansion program they have announced," Hitt told Central Florida Future in November. "[The conversation] went rather nicely."
Marinatto left the Big East by tendering his resignation in early May.
While some observers have feared that these penalties could have crippled the UCF athletics program as they headed into Big East play in 2013-14, the one-year postseason ban won't affect them as a Big East member. The scholarship reduction is also insignificant in the scheme of things and many successful teams play with 10 or fewer scholarship athletes in basketball. Since only seniors will be given a free-pass to transfer, the impact there will also be minimal.
In effect, the NCAA's penalties will essentially be a minor speed-bump for UCF's athletics programs as they attempt to scale up to Big East competition.
UPDATED 11:30am - Here is the NCAA's official release on the UCF penalties. They are handcuffed a bit on when and where they can recruit for basketball, but will be able to have up to 11 scholarship players -- the real loser here appears to be the walk-on players who will take the last two seats on their bench.