UCF faces challenges heading into the Big East

UCF will have to overcome more than top level competition to succeed, as it transitions from Conference USA to the Big East.

Both the football and men's basketball teams were given a one-year postseason ban by the NCAA due to major recruiting infractions. The penalties came about by the NCAA discovering that a total of 11 prospective student-athletes were recruited for UCF by Ken Caldwell, who is a recruiter for a professional sports agency.

Caldwell provided impermissible benefits, such as transportation expenses, a laptop computer, and tuition fees to student athletes and prospective student athletes.

UCF was also placed on probation for five years and fined $50,000. Men's basketball head coach, Donnie Jones, was hit with a three-year "show cause" penalty. UCF will have to prove Jones will comply with NCAA rules and accept probation sanctions linked to them. Former athletic director Keith Tribble was also given a three-year "show cause" penalty while the football team's former wide receiver coach was handed a one-year "show cause" penalty.

The one-year ban from postseason play will keep UCF out of the Conference USA Men's Basketball Tournament in 2013. The members of the senior class are allowed to transfer to any other program with an available scholarship without having to sit out a season.

The Knights were expected to rely heavily on their senior members which includes Keith Clanton, C.J. Reed, Marcus Jordan, and Josh Crittle. Clanton's name has already been popular among rival coaches trying to land the 6-foot-9 all-league forward. Jordan, the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, was second on the team in scoring last season but might not receive too much interest after being arrested in July for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice.

Jones will have more issues than the possibility of losing his senior core. He and his coaching staff will have the amount of days and off-campus visiting eligibility limited for the next two academic years. UCF had to vacate all men's basketball wins from 2008-2011.

The timing of the NCAA's sanctions come as the athletic program begins its final year of competition in Conference USA before joining the much more competitive Big East. UCF will have to compete against an elite level of competition as it attempts to overcome all of the recruiting restrictions for the next two seasons. Jones could be in trouble as he attempts to overcome his unfavorable odds. If his team's performance suffers and he is relieved of his duties, the job market for coaches who have been hit with a show-cause is virtually non-existent.

The situation for the football team is slightly different. Head coach George O'Leary will have his recruiting abilities reduced, but he will not lose any highly valuable scholarships. The senior class of players on the team would be eligible to transfer to any school with an available scholarship, however UCF is planning on appealing the postseason ban for football only.

By appealing, UCF will be eligible for bowl games this upcoming season as the appeal process runs its course. If the school loses its appeal, O'Leary's team will be banned from bowl games in 2013, which will be its first year in a BCS conference. None of the players illegally recruited ended up enrolling at UCF and the former wide receivers coach linked to the third party was fired. UCF is unlikely to win its appeal or have any penalties reduced however, as the football program was already on probation for malfeasance.

There are no rules disallowing UCF from withdrawing its appeal if the Knights have a discouraging start to the season. However, the NCAA has the capability of disciplining the school if it attempts to manipulate the rules.

The images of both penalized teams will be tarnished for the unforeseeable future. Both Jones and O'Leary can offer prospective student-athletes the opportunity to play in the Big East, but NCAA sanctions have been detrimental to much stronger programs in recent history. For example, Indiana's rich basketball tradition was only recently restored after three miserable seasons following the NCAA's decision to make then head coach Kelvin Sampson a show- cause case.

The football team recently began its preseason practices.The Knights of the gridiron are returning 16 starters from last year's team that finished 5-7 and are considered contenders to win the conference championship. O'Leary's squad might be able to leave Conference USA on top, but the UCF athletic program will to crawl uphill as it faces the appeal process, recruiting restrictions, and the Big East in the coming years.