February 11, 2010
The first victim of the NCAA's probation hammer in 2010 is not Southern Cal, after all -- the Trojans' moment of truth in front of the Infractions Committee is still more than a week away -- but rather Central Florida, which bit the bullet today for a whopping 300 impermissible phone calls and text messages sent to recruits by a pair of "non-coaching staffers" in 2007-08, according to the Orlando Sentinel:
The compliance staff noticed irregularities in the recruiting administrator's phone records. UCF began an inquiry and found that from June 6, 2007, through Feb. 6, 2008, the recruiting administrator placed and received phone calls from about 17 recruits or their parents. The recruiting administrator also sent 70 text messages to recruits and their families despite having no authorization to have any phone contact with recruits.
Several of the phone calls were placed during weeks when the coaching staff was limited to one phone call to recruits, pushing the staff over the NCAA's phone restrictions.
In July 2009, the school received a tip that a second staff member violated NCAA rules by contacting recruits and their families via phone calls and text messages. From August 2008 through January 2009, the former director of player personnel used his personal cell phone to place and receive calls from 10 recruits.
The NCAA report on UCF's infractions states the director of player personnel told investigators that he initiated the contact after he "emotionally connected" with recruits during the official visit. He told the investigators he felt uncomfortable ending friendships with recruits and cutting off all contact after their official visits ended.
(Read the public infractions report and the NCAA press release.) The "emotional connection" resulted in a "major violation," according to the Sentinel, although hardly major conseqeunces: The Knights were hit with retroactive scholarship penalties, symbolically applied to the last three recruiting classes (each of which just happened to come in below the NCAA-mandated limit of 25 scholarships, coincidentally enough), and will spend the next two years on probation -- i.e. "don't screw up again or you'll really get it next time." The two (unidentified) staffers accused of the violations, both of whom have left UCF, will be suspended for two weeks at their current schools. That's what I call sending a message, and that message is "the NCAA is either not serious about or incapable of enforcing its regulations in any serious way."
If anyone is absorbing any real damage, it's head coach George O'Leary, whose critics can now add "probation" to the pile of logs fueling the fire under his office chair. UCF took a chance on O'Leary after he was infamously fired from Notre Dame after two days on the job for falsifying his resumé in 2001, and has been repaid with the burden of a mediocre record, a wrongful death suit following the death of a player during an unusually strenuous offseason workout, the collapse of a second player during another workout less than a year later (that player, running back Brandon Davis, recovered to contribute in two games last fall) and a petty feud with the local media. During O'Leary's otherwise successful stint at Georgia Tech in the nineties, the Yellow Jackets were cited by the NCAA for playing ineligible players, and an offensive lineman accused the coach of siccing four defensive linemen on him as punishment for missing too many blocks.
O'Leary claimed ignorance of the illegal contact with recruits and said he was "disappointed" that his "first-class program" had been further tainted. Still, ineffectual or not, the specter of NCAA sanctions can only back him further into a corner going into his crucial seventh season, which for his sake had better be a clean, winning one.