UCF Knights Have Golden Opportunity as Conference Realignment Talks Heat Up
By Zach Clark, Space Coast Daily // July 24, 2021
Will UCF Move to a Power 5 conference?
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – What many claimed to be a pipe dream, has become a reality for the SEC as the Big 12’s most successful and storied programs Oklahoma and Texas are on the verge of joining the SEC as the 15th and 16th members of the SEC.
The move would bring those message board dream matchup scenarios to real life and forming the first ‘Mega-Conference’ with 16 teams.
Conference realignment is here, once again. However, this is not anything new or unfamiliar territory for these conferences. This time, the atmosphere and dynamics around College Football has drastically changed since last time conference realignment entered the fold in 2010.
Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) was just approved by the US Supreme Court last month and the College Football Playoff looks to be expanding to 12 teams. The current playoff structure was first adopted in 2014.
With TV contracts set to be renegotiated in 2024-2025, many conferences are jockeying for some of the largest TV contracts in sports.
Where does UCF go from here?
This is a pivotal moment for UCF as the decisions made today have a ripple effect on the university, as a whole, for the foreseeable future.
The UCF brand is as valuable as it has ever been. Ideal location, huge tv market and population would give any conference looking to up their tv contract a massive bargaining chip. Combine that with the second-largest enrollment in the country, in one of the fastest growing states and you hold the cards.
Not to mention, the football program has become the most competitive and most interesting teams among the non-Power 5 teams in recent years.
Let’s look at some scenarios that could play out for UCF.
Some would say this is most likely scenario and the safest option. UCF has shined in the AAC in recent years, but have the Knights reached their ceiling in this conference?
UCF proved that they can go undefeated in 2017-2018 and still not even get their shot that they belong in the Playoff amongst the juggernauts of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. It’s safe to say, that before UCF plays one game that they are fighting an uphill battle and do not control their own destiny in the National Championship conversation.
And just because you can go undefeated, doesn’t mean you get your shot. Jumping to a Power 5 conference changes that immediately.
The advantage to staying in the AAC is the fact that the current playoff structure looks to be heading from 4 teams to 12 teams.
In recent years, UCF has been the outsider and disrespected due to level of competition they play against in the AAC. Flashback to 2017 and 2018 seasons, UCF would have been in the playoff in both years if the proposed 12-team expansion were in place during those years.
With the SEC becoming the first mega-conference, make no mistake, the higher brass in the ACC are having conversations on expansion, as well. In fact, some would argue that the ACC has the most to gain with the possible teams the conference could pluck away from other conferences.
Winning at a high level would be much quicker in the ACC rather than the SEC. Currently, Clemson is king of the ACC but besides Clemson, who else scares you in the ACC? Geographically and competitively, the ACC is an ideal fit for UCF across all sports.
Who else would like to see annual matchups with Miami and Florida State?
Should the ACC add UCF, they would also own every region for the state of Florida when they negotiate the next TV contract; South Florida (Miami), Central Florida (UCF) and North Florida (FSU).
The only way this happens is if the SEC looks to expand to 20-teams. While it has been rumored that the SEC could be looking to expand at 20-teams at some point, that would be a huge undertaking by the conference.
The scheduling and logistics behind adding 6 teams would be a nightmare for the SEC front office. A move of that size would essentially be the death nail for the NCAA. However, we are in an unprecedented age of college football. Anything is possible. Who thought two weeks ago that the blue bloods of the Big 12 would pack their bags for the SEC?
UCF would be at a disadvantage right away from a roster standpoint but they now have a coach who knows to win in the SEC in Gus Malzahn. Giving Gus the chance to recruit in Florida while being a member of the SEC is a very attractive scenario.
Playing an SEC school once a year in a bowl game, or as a non-conference opponent, is much more feasible than the massive overtaking of playing back-to-back weeks for 9 weeks a year in football.
UCF would struggle at first in the SEC, but hosting schools in football such as Alabama, Miami, and Florida State at the Bounce House in primetime would generate excitement around the program like never before. Not to mention, it would become a major recruiting advantage for UCF. In today’s day and age of NIL, the City of Orlando instantly catapults UCF to the hierarchy of the SEC.
With their two prized members of the conference gone, the Big 12 will be in absolute survival mode. More so, Kansas now in discussions with the Big 10 and this conference could be on the brink of collapse as they could now lose their top basketball program too.
The Big 12 would need to stop the bleeding and the addition of UCF would do just that. It would expand the footprint of the Big 12 into Florida and get one of the best TV markets in the country, Orlando.
UCF may not be the only AAC school the Big 12 would be interested in as Houston has flirted with the Big 12 for quite some time. The addition of the Houston tv market and Orlando tv market would be a home run for the Big 12, given the hand they have been dealt with.
UCF football could win immediately and compete for conference championships in year 1. They have the players, coaches and venues to be successful now in the Big 12. UCF also becomes a destination job, something that has plagued this program for quite some time. Coaches and administrators would stay instead of looking for “the next step” in their careers. The programs and the facilities are made to win now in the Power 5.
One thing is for certain, each conference realignment scenario is a golden opportunity for UCF to take the school to new heights, present new rivalries and offer more exposure on the national stage.
Your move UCF, Charge On!
Here is a look at the current TV contracts by conference that Forbes magazine put together to examine the projected amount of money for each conference for each year through 2025.