Tag:NCAA Football
Posted on: August 4, 2012 7:55 pm

How UCF Failed to Succeed While Really Trying

On April 29th, 2011 Pat Forde (then of ESPN) and Pete Thamel (then of the New York Times) each published articles detailing how the University of Central Florida had violated NCAA recruiting rules regarding the recruitments of Kevin Ware, Michael Chandler, and Damarcus Smith - three former Louisville commitments who had each de-committed from Louisville and had each either signed a NLI or made a verbal commitment to play at UCF. At the time most UCF fans took these stories to be nothing more than hit pieces generated out of sour grapes from Louisville supporters or some preconceived disdain for a school with little to no history of being successful in major college athletics. I admit I was one of those skeptics, but such is the life of a UCF fan - always seemingly having to be on the defensive. But as the article turned into a full-fledged investigation by the NCAA and more details emerged, my anger turned away from those publicizing the allegations to those who actually committed them. This is more or less my interpretation of the investigation and the results and sanctions that resulted from it. It’s more of a catharsis-generator for me to help understand the infractions and how it all tied together.

As I detailed in a blog entry from November when UCF received the Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, there were many redactions that could be relatively simple to uncover, just by doing some basic research into the situation. In the recent NCAA Committee on Infractions report that described the findings of the investigation and detailed the sanctions against UCF as a result of the infractions committed by the university administration, coaches, and associates, the NCAA switched from redactions to the use of placeholders. And like the NOA, those placeholders are fairly easy to decipher as to which party is which. There are a few which I am not readily able to determine, and I may never will, and there a couple of names I am taking a fairly educated guess on, but I'm just as much willing to admit I am wrong on those guesses as say that I am right. Since I prefer to deal with actual names, I will include them wherever I can, but by no means am I saying any of these names are absolutely correct as I am merely making educated guesswork.

First off, while the allegations may spread over a couple of years, the overwhelming majority really only concentrate on the five-month period between December 2010 and April 2011. Either Forde and/or Thamel told the NCAA prior to publication of their stories of UCF's transgressions, or an NCAA source leaked the info to them because the NCAA investigators began their interviews the Monday after the Friday the stories were published. Like the NCAA just booked flights over the weekend- rrrriiight. And by Thursday May 5, 2011 NCAA investigators were on campus – less than one week after the stories hit the press. Kevin Ware had only committed to UCF 9 days prior to the stories coming out, and Damarcus Smith had asked for his release from his NLI to UCF just a month prior (and later changed his mind). I mean 9 days. Rick Pitino had visited Kevin Ware the day before Donnie Jones did. And the next day Ware commits to UCF. I do believe the NCAA had initially opened the inquiry to investigate the recruitment of Michael Chandler, and from there, the floodgates opened.


Ken Caldwell and Brandon Bender assisted UCF in the recruitment of 6 men’s basketball and 5 football recruits by promoting the institution’s athletics programs over the course of over 2 years. The crux of this infraction is that UCF knew Caldwell and Bender were recruiting players and by maintaining contact with them and continually accepting their information, UCF was certainly aware of their activities and they could be considered as representatives of the university’s athletic interests. The other red flag about the majority of the impermissible contact was that Caldwell and Bender (who had no previous ties to UCF) began working together and establishing contact with recruits that were not from Chicago (where Caldwell lives) – and later not from Louisville (where Bender lives). The first impermissible contact was for Nik Garcia in March of 2009, and this was the only impermissible contact under the previous men’s basketball head coach Kirk Speraw. The rest of the impermissible contact was between December 2010 and July 2011. Nik Garcia eventually enrolled at UCF, but withdrew during his first semester.

Of the other recruits involved, Michael Chandler, Kevin Ware, Khem Birch, Damarcus Smith, Michael Fluellen, Jerrell Moore, and Lamar Dawson each had contact with UCF coaches and/or information forwarded to UCF by Caldwell (sometimes Bender forwarded information to Caldwell first).  Much of the information was funneled through Keith Tribble or David Kelly via e-mail or fax, and some of the contact was via 3-way phone calls with Caldwell, a coach, and the recruit. However, three other prospects (2 for basketball and 1 for football) who never had contact with any members of UCF’s staff or had any information about them forwarded to UCF, were included as impermissible contact infractions - simply because Caldwell and/or Bender told those recruits to think about considering UCF. Granted, Caldwell and Bender did more than just say that in passing as each recruit noted that Caldwell and/or Bender were fairly repetitive in those requests to consider UCF. Even Birch who had contact with DJ via a 3-way call had never wavered in his commitment to Pitt and continually said he had no interest in UCF.

Commentary: Most of this impermissible contact by itself is rather benign and I doubt UCF would receive significant sanctions for merely having recruits’ information forwarded through the athletic department by a third party – if that truly was ALL that was going on. But considering they weren’t told to stop and were somewhat encouraged to continue and expand their reach by Tribble, and combined with the other infractions, it becomes a serious major infraction.


Ken Caldwell provided AJ Rompza and Dogukan Kozucan with impermissible benefits while enrolled at UCF. In addition, Caldwell provided Michael Chandler, Damarcus Smith, Lamar Dawson, and Khem Birch with impermissible benefits as recruits. Caldwell gave $500 to AJ Rompza over a two-year period – presumably a Christmas presents – via deposits into his bank account. Caldwell paid for Kozucan’s tuition via Caldwell’s son’s credit card for one semester (and was later repaid by Kozucan’s father). Caldwell gave a laptop to Lamar Dawson. Caldwell paid for tuition expenses for Michael Chandler and Chandler’s sister to attend an online high school and paid for Chandler to travel to Calgary (again via Caldwell’s son). Caldwell also paid travel expenses for Khem Birch to travel from Hartford to Louisville and paid for Birch’s tuition to the same online high school as Chandler.

UCF argued that Rompza had a pre-existing relationship with Caldwell and that the $500 paid to him should not be considered impermissible. The COI rejected that reasoning because Rompza met Caldwell through playing basketball and as such, that relationship is not considered pre-existing.

UCF argued that Kozucan listed Caldwell as his legal guardian and the tuition payment should not be seen as an impermissible benefit. Because that one payment was made by Caldwell (and later repaid by Kozucan’s father), with the others made by Kozucan’s father, the COI saw it as impermissible because it did not fit the pattern of other payments.

UCF argued that the travel expenses and tuition payments for Khem Birch should not be considered impermissible benefits because the recruit was travelling for an unofficial visit to Kentucky, not UCF, and had maintained zero interest in attending UCF. The COI rejected that argument because they believed Caldwell’s motive in paying for those expenses was, “to ingratiate himself with [Khem Birch] for the purpose of steering him to [UCF].”

Keith Tribble tried to arrange for a transfer of employment for Damarcus Smith’s mother. Caldwell informed Tribble that Smith’s mother had put in for a transfer within her company to go to Orlando or Tampa and asked if Tribble could help facilitate that transfer. Tribble contacted Jeff Lagos as he was the only one he knew who worked in the medical insurance industry that could help. To be clear, Tribble never asked Lagos to hire Smith’s mother, but rather to see if Lagos could make some calls to people at another company to see if the transfer could be facilitated. Lagos was very cautious about his involvement and questioned Tribble regarding the legality of it, to which Tribble assured Lagos that this was just a referral situation. In the end, Lagos’s contacts were unsuccessful and he ended involvement in the incident by saying, “sorry we could not be of more help,” as there was no open positions for Smith’s mother in either Orlando or Tampa with her employer.

UCF accepted the findings of the COI, but Tribble himself chose to argue that this infraction should be removed or if it is considered an infraction that it should be considered a secondary violation because he felt it was isolated and inadvertent. Tribble’s argument centered on his ignorance of the recruiting rules and the fact that he thought he was just helping Smith’s mother out of the goodness of his heart. The COI agreed that it could be viewed as isolated, but not inadvertent. Tribble’s use of the words “this is big” when asking Lagos for assistance in an e-mail and the reference to this endeavor as a “project” indicated to the COI that Tribble knew full well that Smith was a highly-rated prospect and that getting Smith’s mother a transfer would certainly help UCF keep Smith.

When Smith’s mother’s transfer request fell through, Smith asked to be released from his NLI. Tribble’s denial of that request flew in the face of the statement that Tribble made to the COI that he simply wanted to help Smith’s mother live and work near her son. The COI felt if Tribble truly cared about Smith’s mother in that sense, he would have granted that release as he knew full well that she would not be living or working in Central Florida.

The COI was also emphatic in their denial of Tribble’s argument that ignorance of the rules “does not excuse or even mitigate the violation.”


The COI determined Keith Tribble not only knew of the impermissible recruiting activities and failed to curtail them; he encouraged them, and then lied about his involvement with them to the NCAA.

During those May 5th interviews with the NCAA, former AD Keith Tribble told NCAA investigators he had "heard" of the involvement of Ken Caldwell with the recruitment of Damarcus Smith, but "wasn't aware of it." And when asked when he had heard about it, Tribble replied that one of the football coaches told him that Caldwell knew Smith. The e-mail, telephone, and text message evidence shows that Tribble knew Caldwell had forwarded Smith's information to UCF, including transcripts and recruiting videos, to which Tribble forwarded the information to Kelly (note: not to Head Coach George O'Leary) in January (Kelly had been in contact with Smith and Caldwell prior to that, but I'll get to that later). Tribble had also had Caldwell and Smith together IN HIS OFFICE at the same time in January while trying to find out about getting Damarcus Smith's mother a job. The bottom line is that Tribble more than just "heard" that Caldwell knew Smith, he had gotten that information straight from Caldwell and seen the two of them interact in person as he himself were part of the recruiting process for Smith. So there's the first lie Tribble told the NCAA.

Also during the May 5<sup>th</sup> interviews, Tribble denied knowledge of Michael Chandler’s and Kevin Ware’s recruitments through Ken Caldwell. Tribble’s e-mail records show several e-mails between himself and Caldwell calling Kevin Ware “the next john Wall.”

Then on September 7, 2011, NCAA investigators asked Tribble again if he was aware of Caldwell's involvement with Smith and again he maintained the same heard-but-not-aware stance that he stated in May. Note that this was AFTER UCF had been served with a Notice of Inquiry (which outlines the allegations the NCAA is investigating), so Tribble knew what was under scrutiny.

Then at the COI hearing in April 2012, Tribble was asked to clarify his statements from the May 2011 interview, specifically how he could help get Smith’s mother a job, but not be aware that Caldwell was recruiting Smith for UCF. Tribble kept up the façade of saying he wasn’t sure when he became aware of it and that he wasn’t prepared to answer the questions at that time. The COI made it abundantly clear that they felt Tribble knew full well what the investigation was about, and there was no belief by the COI that Tribble didn’t understand the question. The bottom line: he lied, they knew he lied, they knew why he lied, yet he continued to lie.


David Kelly lied to the NCAA during his August 29<sup>th</sup> interviews. According to the COI report, “his denials and related statements were at worst, false and at best, seriously misleading.”  When Kelly was asked if Caldwell and Bender were helping him recruit, his response was, “I've been doing it for 32 years. I'm not saying this to be cocky or anything, but no, I don't really need anybody to help me recruit.” Kelly went on to deny that Caldwell and Bender helped him, but said, “Now people call and giving information about certain kids that you may want to take a look at and that type of thing, if that's construed as helping recruiting, then I guess that's helping, but that's nothing more than giving information or awareness about various kids that people see.” Kelly’s phone records indicated that he had 800 phone calls and text messages combined with Caldwell and Bender between December 2010 and National Signing Day. Kelly got several e-mails from Caldwell and Bender and met with them in person during Smith’s Fluellen’s and Dawson’s visits to campus. One of the e-mails regarding Dawson, Kelly replied to Caldwell that “I will BELIEVE it when the ink is dry? …Who are you guys??? …Just Get it Done!” The COI asked Kelly to explain it, and Kelly replied that it was a joke and that it was “us kind of black guys talking to each other, messing around…” and that he wasn’t being serious. Bender drove Kelly around when visiting Smith and Fluellen in Louisville and Bender introduced Kelly to the local coaches and was present when Kelly met with Smith and his mother.

In the end, the COI was convinced Kelly knew Caldwell and Bender were recruiting for UCF, that he encouraged them, and that Kelly lied about knowing about it to the NCAA.


Donnie Jones failed to monitor the activities of Caldwell, stop or discourage Caldwell’s activities, or report violations to UCF, CUSA, or the NCAA. The original allegation was that Jones simply failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance, but because Caldwell was involved in the recruiting before Jones was employed by UCF and Tribble’s acceptance of Caldwell and his activities legitimized Caldwell to Jones, the infraction was elevated to failure to monitor.

After Jones was hired by UCF, he met Caldwell through AJ Rompza as Jones was trying to keep Rompza from transferring. During that meeting, Tribble told Jones that Caldwell was someone that Jones should get to know. After Rompza decided to stay, Caldwell stepped up his contact with UCF. Caldwell initiated Jones’ contact with Michael Chandler via a 3-way call and then Caldwell hit the bricks with Chandler, forwarding Chandler’s transcripts to UCF and meeting with Chandler’s family. Jones had frequent contact with Caldwell and made no attempt to curtail Caldwell’s activities or alert the compliance office of them. Counting the recruitment of Kevin Ware, Jones and Caldwell had 825 phone calls and text messages between the two of them. Caldwell also initiated contact between Ware and Jones during another 3-way call. (Caldwell had gotten Ware’s number from Chandler).

Jones admitted to the NCAA that he should have recognized Caldwell’s activities as a violation and reported Caldwell to the administration. As a result of his failure to report the conduct of Caldwell, Jones was found for failure to monitor.

Seeing how Caldwell stepped up his recruiting activities AFTER meeting with Jones (granted it was months afterwards), I would surmise that either Jones had a role in encouraging Caldwell, or Caldwell felt so enamored with Jones that he increased his activity as a result. Maybe Jones gave him access Kirk never did. I truly have no idea, but given that Caldwell went over two years while only bringing in one recruit that was local to him, then began promoting UCF to six high-profile recruits from around the country suggests there was something that changed Caldwell’s behavior. Could it be Jones? Could it be those agents who denied Caldwell worked for them? Could it be Tribble? At this point, I don’t think we’ll ever know.


Based on the violations in Count 1 and Count 3, UCF exhibited a lack of institutional control by failing to monitor the administration of the athletic department, and communications between staff members and Ken Caldwell and his associates. Further, an impermissible benefit was provided in conjunction with the relationship with Caldwell, in the form of:

  • Tribble and other UCF staff were aware that Caldwell had
    • established and maintained relationships with recruits
    • promoted UCF to recruits and UCF failed to stop or report those activities
  • Tribble and Jones gave Caldwell tickets, and access to the UCF athletics staff
  • UCF failed to monitor out-of-state tuition waivers to student workers, specifically student workers performing assigned duties.

The out-of-state tuition waiver was for Ken Caldwell’s son, who was “hired” to be a tutor and class monitor for Nik Garcia. In January 2011, Jones instructed athletics department staff that Caldwell’s son was an employee of the basketball team, when the son was not performing any duties for the basketball team.  As noted by UCF’s counsel during the COI hearing, “this is a bad situation. It is extremely embarrassing. This is nothing that the university is pleased about at all.”


It has been well documented by others what UCF’s sanctions are, both self-imposed and NCAA-imposed, so I won’t rehash those. I will, however, say that based on the infractions detailed by the COI, that UCF’s penalties were less severe than they could have been. UCF is a repeat violator stemming from impermissible contact violations that lead to a probation that ended in February 2012. Based on the repeat violator status, the fact that the AD was not only aware of the conduct, he was a willing participant, and the fact that UCF was complicit in all the activities that Caldwell and Bender were doing suggests more severe penalties. UCF sent Caldwell and Bender letters of disassociation in June 2011, about a month after the investigation hit campus, yet contact continued until July. I’m not suggesting UCF would deserve the death penalty, but postseason bans for one year in each sport were certainly light.

A lot has been made of the COI report comment that 4 of the 5 aggravating factors regarding the application of a prohibition of play penalty (such as a postseason ban) were in play at UCF. Specifically, that Dr. Hitt mentioned that only 2 of the 5 apply to the football team, and therefore UCF doesn’t deserve a postseason ban. I think they could not be more wrong about that. The 5 aggravating factors are listed in NCAA Division 1 Bylaw 19.5.2 paragraph (g), which states that a prohibition of play penalty can be issued, “particularly in cases which:” and lists the 5 factors, with the word OR in them. That tells me that the NCAA justifiably needs only one of those five, not a majority of those five factors to issue a prohibition of play penalty. In addition, Bylaw details the penalties for repeat violators, to which UCF is classified as one. The first available punishment available in that bylaw is a prohibition of play. If I am interpreting the bylaws correctly, UCF’s appeal of the postseason ban for football will be a loser.


There’s no sugar-coating it - UCF cheated. Tribble broke the rules then tried to say he didn’t know what they were. Kelly broke the rules and then lied about breaking them. Jones broke the rules, but came clean. UCF was on probation for recruiting violations for football, then committed recruiting violations for football. The fact that UCF has only minor scholarship losses and only one-season postseason bans speaks to the leniency the COI showed, given the fact that while UCF cheated, they really didn’t get much out of it. Had more than just Rompza, Garcia, and Kozucan ever play for UCF, I think the sanctions would have been devastating. Instead, they are manageable and UCF should just take them and move on.  

Category: NCAAF
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