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July 31, 2012

NCAA levies penalties on UCF

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Central Florida will have to sit out the postseason for a year in men's basketball and football under sanctions the NCAA handed down Tuesday, adding to penalties the school self-imposed after major recruiting violations were uncovered last year in both programs.

UCF also was cited for "a lack of institutional control" and fined $50,000.

The penalties added two years to UCF's previously proposed three years' probation. And they leave in place other sanctions: vacating basketball victories; a reduction in basketball scholarships; and, tighter limits on football recruiting visiting days.

Greg Sankey, the executive associate commissioner of the SEC and an NCAA infractions committee member, said that the lack of control UCF had on outside entities was the most egregious finding.

"Part of what was troubling here is there was knowledge of the representatives or third parties being involved in the recruiting process and (UCF officials) facilitated that," he said Tuesday.

In a news conference to respond to the NCAA's findings, UCF president John Hitt said while he "generally accepts" the penalties levied, the school will appeal the postseason ban in football.

"We just don't feel the violations outlined in the NCAA bylaws justify the sanctions," Hitt said.

UCF has 15 days to file its notice of appeal, and Hitt said his understanding is the appeals process should carry beyond the 2012 football season. Should the NCAA deny the appeal, UCF would serve the bowl ban in 2013.

Hitt called their appeal "well-grounded," noting that none of the players UCF recruited illegally ever actually played football at the school.

All the punishments stem from a 2011 investigation that found the programs were involved with runners for sports agents and made cash payments to recruits.

Former athletics director Keith Tribble and assistant football coach David Kelly were cited for unethical conduct by the NCAA last year and resigned. Tribble was given a three-year show-cause order and Kelly a one-year order. It means any institution that hires them in that time must prove to the NCAA that they are rules compliant.

Basketball coach Donnie Jones served a three-game suspension last season and was also given a three-year show-cause order beginning next season.

Hitt said that while dismissal was considered for both Jones and football coach George O'Leary, no personal involvement was found by the NCAA on O'Leary's part. He said they thought Jones made "errors in judgment" that were punished sufficiently in school officials' eyes.

Hitt also acknowledged that UCF's stiff penalties could be a sign the NCAA is following up on promises to beef up enforcement for rules' violators. As a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State was slammed last week with a four-year bowl ban and the loss of dozens of scholarships.

"I think most students of the NCAA and intercollegiate athletics have been forecasting that penalties would get stronger and become greater in months ahead," Hitt said. "I think we're seeing that."

Plus, UCF has had trouble 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. That violation made UCF a repeat offender, which also likely factored into its new punishments.

UCF is in the process of preparing to move to the Big East Conference in 2013 as an all-sports member. This will be its final season in Conference USA.

UCF football was picked to win Conference USA's East Division in a preseason media poll after coming off a disappointing 5-7 year in 2011.

The NCAA has a bylaw that allows players whose eligibility is elapsing and won't have another opportunity to compete in postseason play to immediately transfer.

On the basketball side, that could mean Knights' senior Keith Clanton now faces a decision of whether to transfer or stay without the possibility of playing in the NCAA tournament this upcoming season. Clanton was a first-team All-CUSA selection last season.

The NCAA's investigation began last year following media reports that UCF officials and athletes had involvement with a man named Ken Caldwell, a reputed recruiter for a professional sports agency, and associate Brandon Bender.

Specifically, the NCAA said in a notice of allegations to UCF last August 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.

The NCAA said in its findings Tuesday that it was evident that Caldwell "was making an effort to develop a network of relationships with prospective student-athletes and, in turn, expand his sphere of influence within the collegiate coaching community."

Former basketball player A.J. Rompza, who graduated from UCF last year, was the only athlete involved who ever wound up playing a game at UCF, however.

In imposing its own penalties in February, UCF acknowledged a lack of sufficient compliance within its programs, which it said was being addressed with the hiring of new athletic director Todd Stansbury in January.

At his news conference announcing Tribble's resignation, UCF president John 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 "somewhat misinformed understanding of NCAA recruiting legislation."

In March, Stansbury announced an increase in compliance staffing aimed at setting a new tone for UCF's coaches and athletes going forward. He reiterated that pledge again on Tuesday.





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