The UCF football team may not be eligible to play for a Conference USA championship or appear in a bowl game during the 2012 season after all.
UCF President John Hitt said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with the Orlando Sentinel the school is asking the NCAA to quickly review its appeal of a postseason football ban with the hope the Knights would get an answer before the end of this season.
If the Knights lose the appeal before bowl invitations are handed out in December, UCF would sit out the postseason.
If the Knights win their appeal, they would not have to serve a postseason ban.
Hitt said he initially thought the appeals process would not be completed until after the upcoming football season ends, but UCF officials have since determined the appeal could be resolved this year.
"It depends on who you talk to at the NCAA how likely it is to get done quickly, but it is clear to us now that it can be done fairly quickly," he said. "And I'm going to make a request that it be expedited."
UCF fans have criticized Hitt for saying football coach George O'Leary convinced him to appeal the decision.
Hitt said O'Leary was the first to suggest UCF appeal the postseason ban, but a group of about a dozen school leaders met twice to weigh all options and ultimately supported the decision to protest the sanction.
UCF is not appealing any of the other penalties handed down by the NCAA.
Hitt said it would be ideal to get a ruling from the NCAA before the 2012 postseason.
"I still would rather get this over with," he said. "I feel the need to stick up for our coaches in football and the players. And, by making an appeal, we're doing that. At this point, we'll make our appeal. We think we've got some good points, they will evaluate and make their response and then the appeals committee will hear it."
The altered timeline erases any chance for members of the Knights' current senior class to transfer without penalty to a new school, where they could have a chance at postseason play.
"The seniors, I think, from the get-go have been all in," UCF athletics director Todd Stansbury said, suggesting it was unlikely any of them would have transferred if UCF had simply accepted the postseason ban.
Hitt said he understands the NCAA may not be able to hand down a ruling before the end of the 2012 football season and is willing to accept the risk the Knights might lose out on an opportunity to play in a bowl game during their first season in the Big East.
It will be the final year of the automatic qualifying Bowl Championship Series postseason format and likely represents UCF's best shot at earning a coveted spot in a BCS game without having to post an undefeated record.
When asked what he would say if the Knights had to turn down an Orange Bowl invitation next year because the appeals process dragged out and UCF lost, Hitt responded, "Bad choice. You can't have it both ways. We'd have to live with it."
Hitt said UCF has been in contact with Conference USA and Big East officials, and he does not expect the Knights to face any additional sanctions from the leagues as a result of the NCAA's findings.
The NCAA Committee on Infractions hit UCF with hefty sanctions July 31 following its investigation of major recruiting infractions within the football and men's basketball programs. UCF self imposed a long list of penalties recommended by former NCAA investigator Michael Glazier with the hope of avoiding more stringent punishment. Glazier has been retained to oversee the Knights' appeal.
Former UCF athletics director Keith Tribble and wide receivers coach David Kelly were forced to resign in November after they were accused of lying to NCAA investigators.
Hitt said he felt one of UCF's strongest arguments was that it did not gain a competitive advantage from the infractions. Stansbury cited two other instances when the NCAA appeals committee reversed postseason football bans, but both Hitt and Stansbury agreed it is rare for schools to win appeals.
One of UCF's biggest challenges is Tribble's involvement, which prompted the NCAA to hammer the school for suffering from a "loss of institutional control."
"We think it's the right thing to do to stand up for the program," Hitt said of the appeal. "We'll take what comes on that. It wasn't a terribly difficult decision."
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