With conference realignment seemingly always in the college football world’s headlines, and especially since there’s so much college football playoff expansion discussion, here’s a closer look at how UCF football might fare if it joined a Power Five conference.
For this exercise, the Big XII Conference will be utilized. There will be a set criteria, and those considerations for UCF football include listing the Big XII Conference teams where they are located to better understand the conference footprint, considering the states UCF would recruit it played within the Big XII, grasping the importance of the state of Texas as it relates to recruiting and exposure, playoff rankings, and the direct financial aspect of the decision.
This will be a complex issue as it is. Therefore, the discussion is being reduced to football. Obviously for UCF to make a conference change, all sports must be considered as part of the equation.
The Big XII Conference Members
For UCF to join the Big XII Conference, it would be traveling quite a bit. Here are the current member institutions and the cities from which they reside.
Within the state of Texas: Texas Tech (Lubbock), Baylor (Waco), Texas Christian (Fort Worth), and Texas (Austin).
From outside the state of Texas: Oklahoma State (Stillwater), Oklahoma (Norman), Iowa State (Aimes), Kansas State (Manhattan) and Kansas (Lawrence).
Add on from the old Big East Conference: West Virginia (Morgantown).
Recruiting Territory Probably Will Not Change for UCF Football
From a recruiting standpoint, take West Virginia as a program that finds a way to live within the Big XII despite being far outside the footprint of the other member schools. It has made it work as a member of the Big XII and it does so by recruiting in an area the rest of the conference does not.
The Mountaineers generally recruit Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia as its home base. States such as Florida and Georgia are generally the states with a couple of prospects that sign with West Virginia, too.
Could the Knights continue to recruit their home base and compete in the Big XII? Absolutely. This is Florida. No need to change a thing there. The Sunshine state produces as much talent as any other state in the country.
With UCF’s current staff also holding serious connections to the states of Alabama and Georgia, there’s no need to do anything different with recruiting. If anything were to change, add one or two Texas prospects to the roster each year. UCF would certainly receive the exposure to recruit the Lone Star State as it produced 33 NFL draft picks this past April, second only to Florida's 37. Then there's viewership.
The big benefit would be television. More young prospects could watch the Knights play on television. That’s a big reason to join the Big XII. Exposure matters.
It's all but self explanatory. The more prospects that watch the Knights on television the better. No need to really elaborate all that much. It's an opportunity to expand the recruiting pool, by way of television more than anything else.
The Big XII Conference’s Homebase: Texas
One of the largest geographical states in the country, and one of the most populated, Texas presents many positives for UCF football. First and foremost, there’s opportunity for the football team to gain new rivalries, which in turn provides exposure and creates excitement for recruits (see above).
There’s nothing wrong with UCF’s rivalry game versus the University of South Florida, but it’s not like the Texas Longhorns, and their mascot Bevo, if they were to be rolling into Orlando. This is a big deal from a perception standpoint as well. That means recruiting and exposure combined. Here we are again, it's recruiting.
Not only does playing against teams like Texas Christain (TCU) mean the opportunity to recruit the Dallas high school programs, it also means recruiting the state of Texas itself. Now place UCF on ESPN for a nationally televised game against TCU, Oklahoma, or Texas at 3:30 EST with UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn saying “Boom!” after each touchdown?
Think the Bounce House would be going wild? Then think about those recruits enjoying that environment! There is one more critical aspect to consider here.
The Big XII Could Help the Knights Reach the Playoffs?
UCF football would be in the living rooms of millions of viewers in Texas alone, plus those college playoff committee members might be more inclined to tune in to watch the Knights. Just something to consider.
Be honest, if the Knights join the Big XII, the chances of playing a schedule that’s conducive to impressing the college football playoff committee would almost certainly improve over the current situation within the American Athletic Conference. Like it or not, that’s reality.
Does that mean UCF should jump at the opportunity to join the Big XII? Not necessarily. Still, rankings matter. Making the playoffs matter. Then, that pocket full of cash will matter.
It’s an endless cycle, and sooner or later the UCF football program will likely see serious overtures from another conference like the Big XII. That leads into the final point, and it’s one that’s already been touched on multiple times, and for good reason.
Would Joining a Power Five Conference Like The Big XII Allow UCF to Break the Bank?
Texas is one of college football’s most profitable programs, and it’s been underachieving on the football field for a long time while still making an incredible amount of money. Imagine if newly hired University of Texas Head Coach Steve Sarkisian turns around the Longhorns and they start knocking on the college football playoff door.
Consider the financial climate then. Plus, that revenue is spread around to conference members (UCF included, potentially). That’s the golden ticket that many college athletic directors hope for -- the big pay day -- when considering conference realignment within a Power Five conference.
That’s a mouthful, but it’s true. The Longhorns are as prime an example as can be utilized. According to Forbes in 2019, Texas was the second most financially profitable program in college football. That article provides not only insight into the Longhorns, but something else.
It’s easy to pull up potential profit projections and it’s also fun to think about what UCF might do with its extra bowl money, etc. Without going into finite numbers, just know that the UCF football program would be backing up the Brink’s truck to the bank vault as compared to where it is stationed today within the American Athletic Conference.
Yes, UCF would stand for much financial gain. That’s obvious. The issue is not the financial aspect of football. It’s more about logistics and social fit. That’s a subjective topic, however, and one that is almost impossible to prove one way or the other.
Unlike the logistics, money is just a necessary evil for UCF football like any other college football program. That’s especially true when one considers that the same money builds the incredible facilities, keeps the highly paid coaches at UCF, and allows those coaches to then recruit the best prospects in the country.
It’s a cycle. A never-ending cycle.
At the end of this discussion about Big XII expansion, just know that UCF football could substantially gain from joining the Big XII. New rivals, more exposure, better recruiting, and more money all come together.
Yes, there are logistical issues and other concerns about UCF football joining the Big XII. Even so, UCF football stands much to gain from the Big XII and it's likely more realistic than other conferences adding UCF football (more on that tomorrow).