Credit O'Leary for UCF's successful NCAA appeal

Running off at the typewriter

Let's give it up for UCF football coach George O'Leary, who recorded his biggest victory four months after last football season ended.

UCF won its NCAA appeal on Friday to have its postseason ban overturned and will now be eligible for a bowl game this season — its first in the conference formerly known as the Big East. Let's not forget it was O'Leary who convinced UCF president John Hitt to pursue the appeal after Hitt's initial thought was to accept the NCAA's bowl ban.

"I was more inclined to take our lumps and be done with it," Hitt said back then.

By appealing the bowl ban last year and possibly pushing it into this season, I believed UCF was taking a huge and unnecessary gamble. As I wrote then, "Why risk tarnishing the reputation of the athletic program even further by going into a new league with a black mark on your résumé? It might seem like a long shot, but what if UCF wins the Big East in its inaugural season and then is banned from representing the league in the Orange Bowl, which pays $17 million per team? How stupid would the school look then?

"Bad decision," Hitt admitted when I presented that scenario to him in August. "You can't have it both ways. We'd have to live with it."

Doesn't matter now. Turns out Hitt and O'Leary made the right decision by sticking their necks out for last year's team, which ended up with 10 victories, playing for the conference championship and winning a bowl game.

The NCAA rarely grants such appeals, but perhaps one reason it happened in this case is because the organization's investigators are under fire after the illicit way they investigated the University of Miami. Let's not forget some of the investigators on the UM case were also on the UCF case. And let's also not forget that part of UCF's appeal was based "upon the factual inaccuracy" of the NCAA's case against the football program.

The bottom line is this: UCF won a big one on Friday — ostensibly and belatedly the biggest win of the 2012 season.

SHORT STUFF: Did ESPN really need a two-hour special Thursday on the release of the NFL schedule? Seriously, couldn't they have boiled it down to one tweet: "NFL schedule is out. A lot of games. Some good. Some bad. #Tebow." … Just want to say I was incredibly honored earlier this week when I was named a "distinguished alumnus" of the University of Florida's prestigious College of Journalism. After seeing some of the blatantly incorrect misinformation being sloppily reported by the national media in the Boston Marathon bombings, it made me think back to the basic journalism tenet drilled into me by Professor Jean Chance, who taught "Fact-Finding" at UF back in the day. Her message was clear: "Being right is more important than being first." … Most NBA coaches who just finished with the worst record in the league would be on the firing line right now, but Jacque Vaughn's job is as secure if he'd just won the NBA championship. Why? Because you know, I know, he knows and management knows that losing big is part of the process of winning big. …

A moment of silence, please. Pat Summerall has just gone to That Big Press Box In the Sky. My Mount Rushmore of NFL broadcasters: (1) Summerall, (2) Howard Cosell, (3) John Madden, (4) Chris Berman. And my Mount Flushmore of NFL broadcasters: (1) Joe Theismann, (2) Emmitt Smith, (3) Tony Siragusa, (4) Michael Irvin. … I thought the San Antonio Spurs had a chance to win the championship this season until earlier this week when they signed Tracy McGrady. Now they have just assured themselves of getting knocked out in the first round. … Anybody who was at FSU's spring game last weekend could see and sense that redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is going to be the starting quarterback of the Seminoles this year. Obviously, Clint Trickett saw it, too. Three days after the spring game, he announced he'd be transferring. Can't say I blame him. Trickett is good enough to start somewhere, just not at FSU. …

Adam Scott won the Masters with Tiger Woods' old caddie, Stevie Williams, on the bag. Is it just me or have you, too, noticed that all of Tiger's exes seem to be doing pretty well for themselves? … Jay Leno: "Chicago has approved a $500 million renovation to the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field. The upgrade will include a new video screen, enhanced lighting and an entirely different baseball team." … Can you believe Superman turned 75 earlier this week? I'm not saying the Man of Steel is getting old, but he is now faster than a speeding golf cart at The Villages; more powerful than Peter, Paul and Mary singing "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," and able to leap a double-deck of Canasta cards in a single bound. … Last word: The Cavaliers are actually considering bringing back Mike Brown as their coach. Hey, wouldn't that make him the Cleveland version of Brian Hill?

Open Mike

Don't forget, you can click on OrlandoSentinel.com and read the wildly popular Open Mike blog and interactive extravaganza to get my freshest takes on what's happening in the world of sports. Here's an updated blog about the best personnel move Magic GM Rob Hennigan made all season:

Sometimes, the best career moves are the ones you never make.

Just ask Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan.

If he is able to build the Magic back into a championship contender, his most monumentally ingenious move might well be his decision to take a pass on all-star center Andrew Bynum.

If you read my Orlando Sentinel column from a few days ago, you know I think Rob "Hardball" Hennigan has done a tremendous job in at least starting the Magic's rebuilding process. And it all began with his decision NOT to trade Dwight Howard for Bynum.

As I wrote in the column in the following three paragraphs:

Everybody remembers when the Dwight trade went down; when we all wondered what Hennigan was thinking by stubbornly and steadfastly refusing to go after Lakers' all-star center Andrew Bynum in the deal. … We were all flabbergasted because Hennigan did not demand Bynum in the deal. The thorough process-driven Hennigan simply did not trust the 24-year-old center with the 84-year-old knees. And so the 76ers ended up with Bynum, who sat out this entire season with bum knees, just underwent another knee surgery and now becomes an unrestricted free agent.

If Hennigan had traded Dwight for Bynum straight up, the Magic would have no hope right now and their future would be wrecked. They would have essentially traded Dwight for nothing. They'd be the laughingstock of the league and Hennigan's job would already be in jeopardy.

Instead, Hennigan sought the 76ers' undistinguished center Nik Vucevic, who has this year emerged as the league's top young big man. ... Also acquired from the 76ers was 19-year-old Maurice Harkless, who has shown eye-opening flashes of athleticism and seemingly has the ability to become a defensive stopper and a capable scorer. ... It's looking more and more like Hennigan heisted the 76ers while also managing to obtain three first-round draft picks and Arron Afflalo in the Dwight deal.

"A lot of the decision stems from having a core set of values on what we want to be about on the floor as well as off the floor," Hennigan said on our Open Mike radio show earlier this week. "When we were doing a lot of our analysis about what the best option was to trade Dwight, we felt really comfortable on the research we had done on Nik Vucevic, Moe Harkless and Arron Afflalo. Obviously, we wanted draft picks as well ... but we felt really good about [those three players] and the potential they would have when given the opportunity to play for a coach like Jacque Vaughn, who really develops and believes in players."

When asked if he was concerned about Bynum's balky knees, Hennigan replied: "I think it [Bynum's health] was a concern as we did our research into the history of his career. Certainly, the fact that he missed the whole season was unfortunate for everybody."

Everybody except the Magic.

In a forgettable season with scant few highlights, the most memorable moment may be the move that Rob "Hardball" Hennigan had the good sense NOT to make.

Mail Bonding:

(Most interesting reader retorts, radio rabble, tangy tweets and message-board mockery of the week):

On me being named an "alumnus of distinction" at the UF College of Journalism: "Distinction list? The way you take shots at the Gators, they should have put you on the extinction list."

On my column about how it was only a matter of time before terrorism invaded a sporting event like the Boston Marathon: "Yet another reason to just stay home and watch on TV."

On my column about how losing is part of the Magic's plan to win: "Endorsing losing? Are you insane?"

Notable Quotables:

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, three of my favorite quotes about Boston:

"Boston people are full of sauce." — Ellen Pompeo

"Please come to Boston for the springtime." — Dave Loggins

"I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard University." — William F. Buckley

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

 

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