College Football, Florida Gators

Who’s dodging who? Why UCF would be wise to tone down the rhetoric towards Florida.

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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

It sounds like a reasonable request. UCF wants to play some big-time programs and feels it is being left out.

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.

White’s response?

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.

Top-10 Programs

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.

Takeaway

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.

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23 Comments

  1. John M Bland

    Excellent discourse. I didn’t know that Stricklin had offerred the chance to play UF and it was turned down. I’m rooting for LSU for the same reason. I can’t think of a better team to shut up. They’ll find out how much more difficult it is to run up and down the field on a team with a defense. They had their hands full against a completely disinterested Auburn team last year WITH their great QB. LSU will be much more interested IMO.

    • Mike E

      UCFbdid not turn down Stricklin’s “offer”. He only said that at some point when the time was right that UF and UCF should play but under similar terms to UF’s agreement with usf. Which is a 2 for 1 with usf’s game being held in an NFL stadium that will be filed with at least 50% gaters. So he’s likely saying 2 for 1 with UCF with the 2 being played at Camoing World Stadium, not our on-campus Spectrum Stadium. No thanks…

      • Chris Thomas

        Huh? Stricklin said he’d be open to a 2 for 1 with UCF, White said “we deserve better”, essentially turning it down. And UF’s game will be at USF’s home field, which is and has been an NFL stadium. All of USF’s home games are there! That’s USF’s choice, not UF’s, and not a stipulation of Stricklin. You’re making stuff up, like your made up national championship.

  2. Tom Settle

    P.S. I’ll still root for the Knights.

  3. Josh Emery

    This is a BEAUTIFUL article. Well done, sir!!!

  4. Kristopher

    I hope LSU has an epic, history altering beat down of UCF so fierce that they seriously consider doing an Idaho and moving down a division.

    It’s like when Vandy won a whopping three games in a row a few years back and were clamoring “We want Bama!”. How’d that turn out? And yes I know it was probably more than three games in a row but seriously, c’mon.

  5. Robert Heagy

    Isn’t Danny White the Brother of Gator Basketball Head Coach Mike White? There’s a connection there and I believe their father is the Athletic Director at Duke. UCF definitely needs to strengthen its schedule. I wish UCF luck in the Fiesta Bowl, but they are playing the 6th best team in the SEC based on conference record. Go Tigers!!

  6. Bryan J Smith

    I’ve never read an more ignorant article.

    In 2013, Louisville and Rutgers were in UCF’s conference, the AAC (formerly Big East). South Carolina tried to get out of the game that was scheduled last decade, and Ye’Ole Ball Coach even said they play FCS teams now for cheaper and no return trip.

    UCF is not able to schedule anyone but a handful of ACC teams — Pitt, Virginia, Ga Tech and UNC — largely because of relationships (most were O’Leary).

    In 2014, Penn State wanted out of the return game, but we hooked them up in Dublin. Kansas State had just bought out their return trip to UCF, and Penn State wanted the same.

    Stanford only agreed to UCF out of academics. No PAC-12 will schedule UCF. No Big XII team will schedule UCF, and Texas just pulled out earlier this year, the final team after K-State.

    No SEC team has scheduled UCF since last decade. Again, it’s cheaper to schedule a FCS team and not have to deal with any return trip.

    And it really doesn’t matter, because until UCF gets in a P5, there will always be excuses. Doesn’t matter if the AAC has a better record than the Big East, with 3x as many NY bowl wins and 3x as many AP Top 10 finishes, and more teams finish in the final Top 25.

    There will always be asterisks, and the requirement that P5’s have a ‘buy out option,’ which UCF won’t give any more — not after K-State and Texas.

    • Will Miles

      You are correct about Louisville and Rutgers, and others have pointed out that the AAC had an automatic bid in 2013. I have updated the article to reflect that and put in a lengthy correction. I strive not to make that kind of mistake, but I must admit I am not well versed in the history of the AAC. As for the other stuff, I agree with you that there will be asterisks until UCF gets into the Power-5. I just think the grandstanding is likely to keep that from happening. Thanks for your comment. I don’t get everything right, and try to be transparent when I screw something up.

  7. Todd Sassler

    Thank you, sir.

  8. Gator Shane

    Funny UCF. FSU didn’t demand return games in the 80s when Bowden was building the Brand. Neither should you. Play a few big boys on the road then you can talk. You would finish 4th in the SEC East by the way.

  9. UCG

    The Knights don’t need Florida 😂

  10. JLR

    Funny thing. Even with all of this BLUSTER this will likely be your most read piece of the quarter or possibly the year.

    Because “UCF” draws eyeballs and clicks.

    Negotiation: never negotiate based on who you USED to be, you negotiate on Who you are NOW.

    And rejecting 2for1 is not arrogance it is simply telling parties like UF that they are not in the 7-10% of P5 programs worthy of even considering such a term.

    The other 90-93% (60 schools) do not deserve nor demand a unequal deal.

    Take it or LEAVE it…no never mind to UCF
    Suspect you would come up with an excuse if you lost anyway.

    • Will Miles

      Negotiation is about leverage. Florida isn’t the one complaining about missing the playoff.

  11. UCFFacts

    You really should check facts before you publish an article like this. The ratings for the Chic-Fil-A Bowl were terrible? Last Year’s Chic-Fil-A bowl was the second-most watched Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl of all time, and the most-watched non-College Football Playoff Semifinal Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in the New Year’s Six era.

    The article is full of self serving statements taken as fact. The truth is that UCF is no different than UF in that neither want to give up a home game. The issue is not strength of schedule, that is a red herring. Even with a victory over UF this season UCF would not have been in the top 4. The system is designed that way. UCF does not “need” a game UF. UF is not a strong enough opponent to make much of a difference in UCF’s schedule. Certainly not strong enough to warrant a 2-1.

    Here is some information on the Chic-Fil-A Bowl for you http://www.chick-fil-apeachbowl.com/2018/01/05/2018-chick-fil-a-peach-bowl-sets-viewership-milestone/

    • Christopher Smith

      Top 10 opponents wouldn’t make a difference in your schedule?! When your highest ranked opponent at the end of the year according to the ESPN FPI is ranked a lowly and pathetic 42? The fans are a bigger joke than their commuter school.

    • DD

      He did not compare last years Peach Bowl to previous Peach Bowls. He compared it to the other New Year’s Six Bowls. All New year’s Eve Six bowls saw an increase in ratings over last year and previous years. The Peach Bowl lost its time slot to the Citrus Bowl, a non-playoff New year’s Eve six bowl. The Peach Bowl did not want the G% handout again this year.

  12. David

    UCF fans need to realize that no one outside of Orlando gives a crap about UCF. I live in Orlando and I don’t give a crap about UCF… the atmosphere at UCF games is akin to a high grade high school game… Going 24-0 over two seasons in a crap league means nothing, there are high school teams who haven’t been defeated in five years or more, but they are asking to play a college team…

    Is it fair? Not really… but regardless of this being the century of participation ribbons for anyone playing sports, the facts remain it is about money and any directional school is immediately deemed lesser quality than the flagship schools.

    UCF would be better served challenging all Florida schools (UF, FSU, Miami, USF, Florida Atlantic, etc as a way to try to own the state. Going after the single largest school in the state will backfire… especially when you consider the state itself is run mainly by UF graduates… Targeting Florida is a bad decision…

    Florida played UCF a decade ago, a few times, and obliterated them. As a Florida alum, I would have preferred to play UCF in the bowl game vs playing Michigan again, just so we could have the honor of smacking the crap out of UCF. But the reality is that UCF fans would just say they lost only because their QB wasn’t in the game (mind you, Florida doesn’t have a QB even when our starter is in the game!) Florida’s defense and running game would have trounced UCF…. thankfully the SEC gets the honor to shut UCF up when LSU steps on them in the bowl.

  13. Carey Freeman

    I love UCF fans just assuming they will always be better than USF. That nothing will change over the next 10 years. That they’ll ALWAYS be in this position. Like Will said, UCF, USF and Houston are basically the same school.

  14. Carey Freeman

    Let’s also look at the program UCF would probably be smartest to emulate: F$U. Bowden built that program by taking on power schools ON THE ROAD, with no return home game. And he won, and that’s what set the program on it’s way to what it is now.

  15. JW

    UCF AD White’s ARGUMENT of a “growing fan base ” appears to be flawed. NCAA attendance records show that in 2008 when the on campus stadium opened UCF averaged 39,956/game. In 2013 when Blake Bortles starred they jumped to 42,084/game. After less than stellar teams the next two years attendance declined to a whopping 30,065/game in 2015. In 2017 UCF averaged 36,846/game (with a perfect season) significantly less than when they first opened on campus. Yes they jumped to 43,763 this year similar to Bortles team but what this proves is that they are “fair weather” fans .not a growing fan base. I like the cohesiveness of the current team, but when they are gone it is likely that UCF will return to mediocrity and a significant drop in their fan base especially since they are beneath playing the likes of UF or any other power -5 team who tries to set the terms of scheduling them. You see, AD White says they are now a top 10 program based upon 2 good years playing a strength of schedule this year of 74th. This entitles them to snub UF after just 2 years of success. It took UF decades to create their reputation just like all other upper echelon power-5 teams. Somehow UCF is better than any other team in the history of the NCAA & not only can snub who they may but can also crown themselves National champs. They better hope they beat LSU or their growing fan base will evaporate within 2 years.

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