A dark day for the Knights.
One of the darkest days in UCF sports history.
On Tuesday, the Knights were hit with the four damning words that every university athletic department dreads hearing from the NCAA Committee on Infractions:
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"Lack of institutional control."
And the worst of part all? UCF couldn't even dispute the point.
"If you look at the situation we found ourselves in … I couldn't argue that we showed a lack of institutional control," UCF President John Hitt said after the NCAA hammered UCF with five years of probation.
UCF fans had hoped the NCAA investigation would result in a slap on the wrist.
Instead, the Knights got kicked in the teeth.
Maybe UCF boosters should build a statue of former athletic director Keith Tribble just so they can take it down.
Tribble, fired during the NCAA probe for unethical conduct, breaking rules and providing false information to investigators, is the chief reason the Committee on Infractions slammed UCF. The five years of probation for major recruiting violations include a one-year postseason ban in football and men's basketball.
Welcome to the athletic abyss: the somber specter of a "Lost Season" for UCF sports. The only thing saving UCF's football program from such a fate is that the school is appealing the postseason ban in football. The appeals process is expected to stretch past this season, which would enable the Knights to compete for a Conference USA championship and potentially go to a lower-tier bowl game.
But if the appeal is denied, UCF would then enter its first season in its bigger, better conference — the Big East — with a bowl ban. Hitt didn't want to take the gamble but allowed football coachGeorge O'Leary to convince him otherwise. Hitt should have stuck with his original decision.
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?
"I was more inclined to take our lumps and be done with it," Hitt admitted.
The penalties are harsh, but they should be. When the athletic director of the school is one of the main culprits who violated rules, the NCAA had no choice but to hit UCF with the "lack of institutional control" label.
"This is probably the first time the NCAA had an athletic director on the carpet," O'Leary said.
There's no question that Tribble's role made UCF's case much more serious than it otherwise would have been. That's why the NCAA dealt Tribble a three-year "show-cause" penalty — an individual sanction that makes it almost impossible for Tribble to get another job in college athletics for three years.
It was Tribble who the NCAA says allowed the central figure in the investigation — Kenneth Caldwell — to "attach himself" to UCF coaches and potential recruits. Caldwell is the convicted felon and alleged "runner" for a sports agent who was apparently steering football and basketball recruits to UCF.
The most tragically comical part of the whole ordeal is this: The Knights were cheating to get recruits, but none of those recruits ended up playing for the school. It's one thing to be a cheater; it's another to be an incompetent cheater.
This entire sordid affair has been like a bad sitcom with Tribble playing the role as the slapstick villain. All you need to know about this case is the former AD's excuse for breaking the rules.
"Until this case, Tribble had a very superficial and somewhat misinformed understanding of NCAA recruiting legislation," Tribble's attorney wrote in response to the NCAA allegations.
Translation: The athletic director of the school — the man who is supposed to enforce the rules — broke the rules because he didn't actually know what the rules were.
"He [Tribble] asserts that he acted in ignorance and not deliberate disregard for the policies of the NCAA," Hitt said. "Nonetheless, he is the person on whom I depended. And whether it was willful or an act of ignorance … I think this meets the definition of a lack of institutional control."
Hitt, too, deserves his share of criticism. He has done great things at UCF, but where were the checks and balances between the university hierarchy and the athletic department? And why did Hitt give Tribble a contract extension and carte blanche when it was clear to many UCF insiders that the AD was in over his head?
Tribble's tenure can only be described as an utter failure. The athletic department is broke, the football program is average, and UCF botched the aftermath in the tragic death of former football player Ereck Plancher. The university mistakenly chose to go to court in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Plancher's family and ended up losing a $10 million verdict.
"I know it's hard for people to hear right now, but I believe UCF was in a better place when I left than when I got there," Tribble told the Sentinel on Tuesday.
Will this slapstick comedy never end?
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