The University of Central Florida Knights had the kind of day yesterday that they wish they could forget.
UCF Athletic Director Keith Tribble resigned, as did Knights' wide receivers coach David Kelly, while UCF Basketball Head Coach Donnie Jones was suspended for three games without pay. The three are among the targets of an NCAA investigation into possible improper recruiting practices at UCF, while also dealing with charges of lying to the NCAA to cover up these violations.
The timing of this scandal is not exactly favorable for UCF, which is on the verge of recognizing its goal of becoming part of the Big East Conference.
The recent occurrences beg the question: Will the Big East still accept UCF even though it is under an NCAA Investigation that has already forced out its Athletic Director and one of the coaches on the football team?
Let's explore in depth whether or not this recent turn of events might keep UCF out of the Big East.
Why UCF to the Big East Might Not Happen Anymore
The NCAA investigation still has a long way to go, and that makes adding UCF a risky move for the Big East. Since the Athletic Director was forced out long before the investigation is complete, it looks like UCF could be guilty of some very serious violations and is trying to do whatever it can to avoid having severe penalties placed on itself by the NCAA.
The University of Southern California received extremely harsh penalties in June 2010 because a few of its student athletes accepted improper benefits from an agent. Those charges are relatively minor in relation to the allegations already brought against UCF, especially since the school is already on probation for previous violations.
USC got a two-year bowl ban and several of its upperclassmen transferred to other schools. If UCF faced sanctions nearly as severe as those imposed on USC, it could be crippling for the football program, since established programs can weather scandals a lot better than upstart programs fighting for respect can.
The Knights are not an established football power, but rather a young program on the rise with moderate recent success and great potential for the future.
Heavy sanctions would not only stunt the growth of the program but would also set its progression back a few years. For a young program, losing any years of that precious progression could set UCF back quite a bit and diminish future potential.
The allegations against UCF also could make other Big East members wary of the school.
Several of the allegations are related to improper recruiting practices, so it's only natural for other schools to wonder if UCF's recent success was at least partially due to possible cheating. While under close scrutiny from the NCAA, will UCF be able to continue its success or will the program regress?
In short, the recent occurrences related to the UCF scandal could make the the Big East wonder if it's getting the same benefits it thought it was going to receive from adding UCF as a member, and whether or not UCF will be in a position to contribute to the conference.
Why the Scandal Might Not Affect UCF's Move to the Big East at All
UCF was already on probation before the recent events occurred, so the Big East already knew that the school came with some baggage. The conference was fully willing to take on UCF and its baggage, so why should that change now?
The fact that many of the allegations were recruiting-related also might not be that big of an issue.
So far only 11 recruits have been found to be implicated in the scandal, and six of those were in basketball. It's fully possible that those 11 were the only ones in the program whose recruitment is tied to the violations. Five football players don't nearly begin to account for UCF's recent success in football.
The Big East probably realizes this fact too, and may very well come to the conclusion that the violations didn't contribute to UCF's success, and that it's fully legitimate and thus likely to continue in the future.
The Big East didn't extend its original offer to UCF based on what competitive level the school is currently at. It extended the offer based on future potential, which could be huge.
When the University of South Florida joined the Big East several years ago, it didn't have a long history of success, great tradition or an especially large fan base. It had potential, much of which has been recognized, Adding USF has been beneficial to the Big East.
UCF is a similar school. The Big East obviously felt that if UCF were given the benefits of AQ Conference membership it could grow into a major college football power.
The scandal doesn't change the fact that UCF has been a program on the rise with potential for growth. It also doesn't change the fact that UCF is located in the massive Orlando media market, and that the school has a rapidly-growing fan base there.
UCF was invited to join the Big East due to so many more factors than simply on-field success. Those other factors haven't changed, so why should the Big East change its mind now?
In the end, the decision on UCF's future conference affiliation is in the hands of the Big East. Will the scandal and accompanying investigation change the Big East's mind?
After all, their opinion on this matter is the one that really counts.