In October, after College Gameday’s Kirk Herbstreit essentially said that you have to play someone to be rewarded, University of Central Florida Athletic Director Danny White responded.
College football is the only sport in America that is not settled on the field – we need to fix that….Our student athletes don’t want anything given to them…they just want a chance. (check this link for full quote) – UCF AD Danny White
So on Friday, Gators AD Scott Stricklin offered White – and UCF – that chance. He told reporters during a Peach Bowl event in Gainesville that Florida would entertain a 2-and-1 series in which UCF came to Gainesville twice and the Gators would visit the Knights once.
Top-10 programs don’t schedule two-for-one series where the balance is not in their favor. Our growing fan base and our student-athletes deserve better than that.
I have a few thoughts.
Why Won’t the Big Boys Schedule UCF?
The story goes that the big programs are dodging UCF. Unfortunately, that isn’t supported by the facts.
- 2013: @ Penn State, South Carolina
- 2014: Penn State (Dublin), @ Missouri
- 2015: @ Stanford, @ South Carolina
- 2016: @ Michigan, Maryland
- 2017: @ Maryland
- 2018: Pitt
So from 2013-2016 UCF was able to schedule 8 Power-5 teams, four of them home-and-home series. In those games, the Knights went 1-7. In the 2013 season, they defeated Penn State but lost to South Carolina and earned an automatic BCS bid by winning the AAC Conference.
(Note: I erroneously stated in a previous version of this article that the BCS rewarded UCF for its 2013 schedule, and included Louisville and Rutgers as Power-5 opponents. UCF actually earned an automatic BCS bid by winning the AAC Conference in 2013, which included Louisville and Rutgers. This changes the conclusion that they were rewarded for tougher scheduling in 2013, which I have removed in the following paragraph. I apologize for the mistake.)
So what has changed since 2013? Well, the playoff came into being for the 2014 season. All of a sudden, scheduling stronger opponents became a priority. Because non-conference schedules are usually planned 2-3 years out, that means that the home-and-homes that UCF negotiated with Penn State (albeit with a game moved to Dublin), Stanford and Maryland have started to dry up as big-time programs have changed how they schedule.
Examples are all over the place. Alabama has scheduled Florida State and Louisville the past two seasons. Florida has scheduled Michigan and has Miami next year. Ohio State scheduled a home-and-home series with Oklahoma.
As those non-conference slots have filled up with Power-5 opponents, there is less space for anything other than the revenue-generating cupcake games. That means that there isn’t room to give up a game to a team like UCF in a home-and-home scenario.
The market forces to play UCF has changed. UCF has failed to adjust and so has been unable to boost its strength of schedule.
They had zero problem with this when building its program back up after the 2013 Fiesta Bowl appearance. Only now, when the program has become stronger – combined with running into a fantastic QB – is it an issue.
How Scheduling Works
For Stricklin to suggest a 2-and-1 series is pretty standard fare. Power-5 teams – particularly those with the pedigree of Florida – now often play 2-and-1 series with non-conference opponents who are not members of a Power-5 conference.
In fact, Florida has just such an agreement with South Florida. The Bulls will visit Gainesville in 2022 and 2025, with the Gators heading to Tampa in 2023.
For Florida to completely shift how they do business would be stupid. The Gators athletic department makes somewhere near $3 million for every home game. There’s no reason to give up $3 million just because UCF wants to be included.
There’s only one reason to give up a home game. We saw that last season when Florida opened up the year with Michigan at Jerry World in Dallas. Florida was paid handsomely to do so, at least $6 million.
So if UCF wants a home-and-home with the Gators, it can likely be worked out. It’ll just probably cost them around $6 million.
Who Needs Who?
Florida doesn’t need UCF. The Knights need the Gators.
For all the rhetoric about how the Knights wanted to play the Gators in the Peach Bowl – with some even suggesting that Stricklin was dodging UCF – here are the facts.
- According to Sports Media Watch, UCF had the lowest rated New Year’s Six bowl game last season (4.6), behind the Citrus (5.1), Cotton (5.3), Fiesta (5.7) and Orange (6.3) Bowls.
- The best team UCF has played this season according to the ESPN FPI is 42nd ranked Cincinnati.
- Florida has defeated (according to the ESPN FPI) 9th ranked Mississippi State, 16th ranked LSU, and 28th ranked South Carolina. Vanderbilt is ranked 46th.
The Peach Bowl makes money by selling advertising. If they get consistently low ratings, they make less money. The ratings were terrible last season because of UCF. Florida and Michigan will bring more viewers, and thus more money.
Florida has played a difficult schedule, or at least difficult enough that had the Gators only lost once they would have made the playoff. UCF hasn’t played anyone. That’s why they’re not in the playoff. They need teams like Florida on their schedule to legitimize their record, not the other way around.
The Gators don’t need UCF and so do not need to bow to home-and-home terms. If UCF wants to play the Gators, they can on Stricklin’s terms. But to pretend that Florida should acquiesce to their demands or that Florida owes them anything is childish.
Since it joined the FBS, UCF has won 56 percent of its games, had 13 winning seasons (out of 23), ended the season ranked in the AP Poll three times and has played in 10 bowl games, 3 major ones. That’s a really respectable record and impressive for a program that young.
In that same time, Florida has won 72 percent of its games, had 21 winning seasons, ended the season ranked in the AP Poll 17 times and has played in 9 BCS/New Year’s Six Bowl Games. Oh yeah, the Gators also have three legitimate national championships.
Alabama is a top-10 program. Clemson is a top-10 program. Ohio State is a top-10 program.
UCF may have finished ranked in the top-10 the past two seasons, but it is not even close to a top-10 program.
The Long View
The recent comments and fake national championship have served a purpose for White. He knows what he’s saying is going to be ridiculed. He just doesn’t care because he figures that any publicity is good publicity. It may drive UCF graduates to give dollars, which is the goal of any athletic director.
There’s just one problem with that. He eventually is going to need the Gators – and other Power-5 programs – for more than just scheduling.
In 1991, the SEC only had 10 teams but expanded to include Arkansas and South Carolina so it could split into divisions and host the SEC Championship game. That game was the reason for the expansion, and the reason for the game was money.
In 2012, the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M. It’s not a coincidence that these two large television markets were added at a time when the SEC Network was also being launched. Again, the reason for the expansion was money.
As much as I hate the idea, eventually college football is going to go to an 8-team playoff because of the revenue that will provide. Part of that will likely be expansion yet again and teams outside of the Power-5 will need to jockey for position.
USF, UCF and Houston are very similar programs in the exact same conference. If each of them are jockeying for position for playoff expansion, who do you think Stricklin will push for? Who do you think Gators boosters will support?
White may be getting the publicity he wants now. But it seems incredibly short-sighted to sling arrows at an in-state school who he may need as a partner at some point in the future.
And it isn’t just the Gators who are taking exception. It wasn’t exactly subtle when SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that UCF should “look inward” to address its issues with the playoff system.
White doesn’t like the current system? Fine, that’s actually an opinion I can understand. But Florida – and definitely the SEC – will have some say in what any new system looks like. If either one decides to be vindictive, it may end up being a system White doesn’t like even more than the current one.
Winning 25 games in a row is a really impressive accomplishment. I was rooting for UCF last season against Auburn. McKenzie Milton is a fantastic – perhaps even transcendent – player.
We should be talking about how good of a team this is. We should be talking about how impressive it is that they beat Memphis with their backup QB and the heart that the team showed after Milton went down. We should be talking about how excited we are that they get a chance to prove themselves yet again against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, much the same way we talked about Boise State years ago.
Instead, we end up with a sideshow like UCF fans trying to organize a “takeover” of College Gameday when Florida is playing Georgia. And to be clear, I didn’t call it a takeover. Those are the words of the man who arranged the caravan.
We UCF fans and alumni have decided to stage an epic takeover to continue to show the country what UCF Nation is all about and that we will not be silenced or back down from anyone. – Chad Barr, UCF Alum
Of course, when Gator Twitter reached out with concern about whether health insurance premiums were paid up, Knights fans immediately backed down.
But it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. It was a sideshow that had nothing to do with the Gators or the Bulldogs. Instead, UCF just used the event as a way of attracting attention at the Gators expense.
It’s the same reason that Gators fans are being told their team is scared to face UCF, even though the Knights paid $100,000 to get out of playing Florida in 2007 the last time the teams were scheduled to play.
It’s the same reason that White keeps chirping about how much his team wants to earn things on the field with a chance to play Florida and then immediately moves the goal posts when actually given the opportunity.
If you want to change the system, then work to change it. If you don’t like the Fiesta Bowl, then turn down the money and let someone else in who wants to actually be there. If you want to play Florida – or any other Power-5 team – then recognize today’s reality and pay to do it or accept their terms.
Instead, White has chosen to use Florida to increase publicity for UCF. It’s going to eventually backfire. Maybe not this year, but at some point down the road.
If nothing else, it’s done something that I thought was impossible.
When UCF plays LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, I’ll be rooting for the Tigers.