Senior College Football Columnist

Appeal of bowl ban (and other ills) should cost O'Leary, Hitt UCF jobs


Is O'Leary forcing UCF into appealing its bowl ban? It's very possible. (US Presswire)  
Is O'Leary forcing UCF into appealing its bowl ban? It's very possible. (US Presswire)  

George O'Leary doesn't deserve to keep his job.

Those should be the words coming from the mouth of Central Florida president John Hitt today. Except that Hitt doesn't deserve to keep his job either. If you're wondering who's in charge in Orlando, you're starting to get it. They don’t.

Central Florida was taken out at the knees Tuesday by the NCAA. No surprise. Former AD Keith Tribble courted a convicted felon and agent runners in attempting to land basketball and football players. Tribble didn't keep his job. He resigned in November in the case that resulted in the school getting postseason bans and football and basketball.

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Today, Tribble almost looks like a scapegoat. He's gone. A culture remains. A school of 58,000 with one more bowl win (one) than NCAA tournament victories fancies itself a major power. To get there, it desperately engaged with those street agents the NCAA is desperately trying to get its arms around.

At least the blatant cheating was worth it (sarcasm added). None of the players UCF illicitly recruited ended up helping the school. UCF came out lucky still to have a functioning athletic department. It had been on probation as late as February for malfeasance in O'Leary's program. The nice term is "repeat violator." The reality is, UCF was eligible for the death penalty.

Outraged? There's more. Lots. Under the watch of Hitt and O'Leary, a player has died (Ereck Plancher). The school fought hard and bitterly denying it was at fault. It lost. It appealed. Florida and Florida State supported that appeal. The school is now on the hook for $15 million and counting.

UCF is familiar with appeals. In the face of Tuesday's withering penalties the school has decided to appeal a one-year bowl ban.

The school -- Hitt, O'Leary, etc. -- are essentially gaming the system. UCF knows it won't win the appeal but can string it out long enough that football will be eligible to win Conference USA and go bowling this year. Check the preseason magazines. The Knights are favored to win the East Division, if not the conference title.

The bowl ban would then hit in 2013 when the school moves to the Big East.

Eight days after the nation decried the football culture ruling all at Penn State, football culture is ruling all at Central Florida. Have we learned nothing? We're not comparing this bowl ban appeal to the horrid abuses at Penn State, but it certainly is another example of the tail wagging the dog.

O'Leary was not named in Tuesday's report but let's not kid ourselves. UCF matters at all in our consciousness because of football. O'Leary is a brash, brusque personality who rules by force of nature. That doesn't make him a whole lot different that his peers. Penn State coach Bill O'Brien considers him a mentor. For a few precious days O'Leary was valued enough to be Notre Dame's coach. His head coaching rebound came in Orlando. He is Central Florida football.

And his influence is familiar and disconcerting -- especially for a coach coming off a 5-7 season carrying a huge buyout. Or maybe that buyout is his influence.

"I was more inclined to take our lumps and be done with [the bowl ban]," Hitt was quoted as saying in the Orlando Sentinel.

The only logical conclusion is that O'Leary is pushing Hitt to appeal. The coach is protecting football. The president -- the ninth-highest paid at a public institution, by the way -- is acquiescing. Sound familiar at all given recent events? They both should be fired.

They've already spit on the grave of Plancher, insulted his memory and cost the school millions.

NCAA infractions committee member Greg Sankey said, UCF "staff members knew and encouraged [wrongdoing] during the recruiting process." Hitt somehow kept a straight face when he said, "We don't believe the 'aggravating factors' cited from the NCAA bylaws justify this sanction."

UCF accepted that the dreaded lack of institutional control label -- the NCAA's scarlet letter.

It accepted the basketball tournament ban. Then Hitt turned around and agreed football must be preserved. O'Leary wasn't part of Tuesday's penalties until he made himself the latest central figure in an ongoing national discussion. King Football must be stopped.

Hypocrisy doesn't begin to describe UCF at the moment.

You're lucky, fellas, you got in under the deadline. The NCAA Board of Directors is meeting Thursday, close to adopting a new penalty matrix which -- had it been applied this week -- would have made UCF wish for a bowl ban. Central Florida's is the same reactive approach that convinced Penn State to lay back and take "lingering death" instead of perhaps shutting down the program for a year.

No, UCF shouldn't have gotten the death penalty. That would be unfair to Conference USA this year and to the Big East in the future. It would be unfair to the innocents -- the players.

But there is a culture at Central Florida that at least resembles the previous mindset at State College. Its leadership must go. If there was only someone around who had that kind of power.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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