Hey, great rally in the early morning dew. Lots of spirit, the Blue Band, former stars, new players, inspiring speeches, views of Mt. Nittany, and a unanimous mind meld that sent “STAY!” signals to Silas Redd, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t depart for greener pastures. Wish I had been there!
However, this post is not about Penn State. It is about UCF, the hometown university at which I studied as a grad student and worked for 13 years. They’re facing some NCAA sanctions, so I thought it might be interesting to contrast their story with the Penn State NCAA fiasco.
“Maybe UCF boosters should build a statue of former athletic director Keith Tribble just so they can take it down.” —Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel
First, by way of background, and as further testimony to support my treatise that nobody is squeaky clean anywhere in big-time college sports, I know for a fact that 30 years ago, the UCF Golden Knights basketball coach of the time routinely attempted to bully instructors into changing grades for basketball morons, many times succeeding because he was a big shot on campus. Big deal, right? Well, that we all can be so insouciant about this breach of academic integrity is part of the problem. This particular coach was the emperor of UCF basketball from 1969-1983, when he retired. He had better than a .750 winning percentage and his teams perennially made the Top Ten in their division. When he spoke, people listened.
At that time, the institution had just changed its name from Florida Technological University to University of Central Florida. That name change was one of the goals of the second president of the institution, which opened its doors in 1968. The other goal was to get a football team organized and move it up the NCAA ladder. That this was a major goal for a new president is yet another indication that our heads are screwed on backwards.
Anyhow, both basketball and football at UCF are now Division I-A, the top of the NCAA heap. Basketball is coached by former Gator assistant Donnie Jones, and football is coached by the pre-eminent elder statesman George O’Leary, 65, whose most famous stint was at Georgia Tech, but whose most notorious mistake was applying to Notre Dame for the vacant head coaching position there, which he was offered and he accepted — until that august institution determined that O’Leary had misrepresented himself as holding a master’s degree from University of New Hampshire. Thus, he became the shortest tenured coach in Notre Dame history. It’s not wise to lie to Touchdown Jesus.
Following that embarrassment, it seemed unlikely that O’Leary would ever get a head coaching job at a Division I-A school again. He was hired into the more forgiving NFL as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Mike Tice hired O’Leary, his former high school coach for that job.
In 2004, UCF President John Hitt, desperate for head coach after firing Mike Kruczek in the wake of a 0-11 season, courted O’Leary at the urging of then athletic director Steve Orsini.
As reported in the Baltimore Sun:
“When I met George, he didn’t dance around. He acknowledged that he made a couple of mistakes,” Hitt said. “If someone can own up to a mistake, and in talking to them you see that they really do understand what they did, and that’s not who they are, you tend to give them another chance.”‘
Yep, perhaps Hitt would have hired O.J. Simpson if he had only owned up to his “couple of mistakes.” But he had O’Leary and O’Leary had him, and although there was much head scratching and a lot of consternation at UCF, Hitt pulled the trigger on O’Leary’s hire in 2004.
O’Leary’s salary is reported to be $1.4 million per year at UCF, with bonus provisions up to $600,000. (As you might recall, Joe Paterno was making just over $1 million.)
More infamy ensued at UCF. On O’Leary’s watch, a player died in practice. The Central Florida heat is brutal, and O’Leary and staff had apparently worked the lad to exhaustion. From Wikipedia:
On March 18, 2008, running back Ereck Plancher died after conditioning drills. According to four UCF football players interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel, Coach O’Leary verbally abused Plancher throughout the workout, and continued to push the young man to perform despite what they reported to be obvious physical signs that Plancher was in no shape to continue. According to the four unnamed players, O’Leary cursed at Ereck Plancher in a post-workout huddle. Plancher collapsed shortly after the workout and was immediately attended by UCF athletic trainers. He was then transported to a nearby hospital where he died approximately one hour later.
Subsequent to the Orlando Sentinel article, ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” program on November 2, 2008 interviewed players who were at the training session at which Plancher became ill and after which he died; they stated that the session was longer and far more rigorous than O’Leary and other UCF Athletics officials have admitted to publicly. They also alleged that O’Leary and other coaches had initially warned players against providing assistance to Plancher when he became visibly distressed. UCF medical records indicate that UCF coaches and trainers knew that Plancher had a sickle-cell trait which could lead to problems, and even death, during high-intensity workouts.
It was later determined that it was indeed complications of sickle cell trait that had caused Plancher’s death.
O’Leary and Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien are old buddies from the Georgia Tech days, 1995-2002, when O’Brien served first as graduate assistant, and then from 1998 on as coach of several positions and offensive coordinator. This is not significant to the UCF story, but if you slept through the time when we all were learning about O’Brien’s credentials, this Bud’s for you.
Now, UCF is looking at broad scale sanctions for both basketball and football program recruiting violations. Your first thought was, “Hey, wait! No sanctions for killing a player in practice?” Think about that one for a while. While O’Leary and his superiors didn’t completely cover up the incident, it was pretty well played down from its reality.
But apparently, a student dying on the athletic department’s watch is not a matter for the NCAA to worry about, while Sandusky perving in the shower is definitely their business. The reactionary measure to the former was to require that athletes had to either take a test for sickle cell trait or provide proof that they already have taken one; otherwise, they can sign a waiver to opt out. As for the latter, well you know what happened there. Mark Emmert pounced on the opportunity. There’s some lack of consistency in all that, don’t you think?
UCF’s athletic director, hired in 2006 was Keith R. Tribble, one of only nine black athletic directors among the 120 NCAA Division I-A schools. An ex-Gator and an ex-Orange Bowl CEO, he oversaw $150 million in improvements to UCF’s athletic facilities. Unfortunately for UCF and for Tribble, the NCAA launched an investigation of recruiting practices in football and basketball at UCF in April 2010. On November 9, 2011, Tribble “resigned” as AD at UCF, and was later replaced by Todd Stansbury. Tribble, among other things, was accused of having tried to arrange for a job for the mother of a UCF football recruit.
UCF had been placed on NCAA probation previously for impermissible phone contact with football recruits. They committed additional violations during their probation period, which were the subject of the most recent NCAA investigation, alleging that Ken Caldwell, a Chicagoan who mentored several football and basketball athletes, worked with a professional sports agent and helped to steer recruits to UCF, and that he provided 11 recruits over $16,000 in benefits.
While the NCAA investigation was in progress, UCF hired attorney Michael Glazer, a former NCAA investigator, to conduct an investigation concurrent with the NCAA’s review, during which time he recommended self-imposed sanctions. The NCAA, however, not an organization that would ever pass up an opportunity to beat a program when it is down, wants more blood.
Along with Tribble, UCF President John Hitt fired David Kelly, the wide receivers coach, for violations of the NCAA ethical conduct policy. He also suspended Jones for three Conference USA basketball games and slapped O’Leary with a letter of reprimand, for allowing the violations to take place within their purview.
In addition to those personnel actions, UCF’s self-imposed penalties were:
- Placing its athletic programs on NCAA probation for three years
- Dropping from 13 to 12 men’s basketball scholarships for the next two years
- Limiting football official visits to 27 per year and basketball official visits to seven per year for the next two years, a 20 percent reduction in UCF’s average official visits during the past four years
- Vacating all men’s basketball wins for the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 academic years because point guard A.J. Rompza’s amateur status was compromised by Caldwell during the victories
- Reducing the number of football coaches and men’s basketball coaches allowed to simultaneously recruit off campus during the next two academic years
- Prohibiting men’s basketball coaches from engaging in off-campus recruiting during two of three evaluation July periods during the next two academic years
- Reducing the number of men’s basketball and football recruiting days during the next two academic years
- Issuing letters of reprimand to UCF basketball head coach Donnie Jones, assistant basketball coach Darren Tillis, and football head coach George O’Leary. Jones was suspended for the first three Conference USA games, while Tillis was suspended for two C-USA games.
- Blocking Tillis and Jones from receiving bonuses or salary increases for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.
This morning, UCF learned that the NCAA had indeed imposed additional stiff sanctions, citing the now infamous “lack of institutional control.” Mark Emmert is still feeling his “lack of institutional control” oats, but this time the violations were actually within his purview: real football and basketball recruiting violations. Thus, there will be no need to play on the public’s guilt about “the children.”
In brief, the additional penalties are:
- One-year postseason ban in football and men’s basketball
- Fine of $50,000
- Five years’ probation.
- Tribble and Jones given three-year “show cause” penalties
- Kelly given one-year “show cause” penalty
The “show cause” penalty means that if the individual is employed by an NCAA school, the school must prove that he will comply with NCAA rules and accept any probation sanctions linked to him. For Jones, still at UCF, that will mean some paperwork for AD Stansbury’s office, but for Tribble and Kelly, prospective employers will surely think twice before hiring these men with dark NCAA clouds hanging over their heads. Perhaps they’ll all wind up working in the NFL for their ex-high school coaches. Or not.
The Knights were projected winners of the East Division of the C-USA, but they won’t be eligible to participate in the C-USA title game. Thus, they’ll not get another chance to be C-USA champs before they join the Big East in 2013-2014.
So, “lack of institutional control,” eh? Was UCF smart to hire Glazer and implement self-imposed sanctions? Would the NCAA have been harder on them than they had been on themselves?
UCF can appeal, but by imposing their own sanctions, they tacitly have pleaded no contest. I doubt that they’ll appeal.
This investigation took over a year for the NCAA to complete and decide upon. Do you think that if a normal investigation had been conducted with regard to the Penn State issues, it would have concluded with the imposition of a four year death penalty as has been suggested was “the other option”? Enquiring minds want to know.