Danny White and UCF say they want a chance. So why reject a 2-for-1 with an in-state power like Florida?
Many people, myself included, hoped to see Florida and UCF in the Peach or Fiesta Bowl this season.
Mainly, I thought it would be a great football game with intriguing matchups: Florida’s spread run game against UCF’s porous run defense; UCF’s electric offense against Florida’s ferocious defensive front. I also thought it could help settle the lingering debate since UCF’s dominant win over Auburn in last year’s Peach Bowl about whether UCF could handle a high-caliber opponent from the Power 5 that was motivated to play.
The Peach Bowl opted for Florida-Michigan instead, the result, according to multiple outlets (first reported by Brett McMurphy) of a handshake agreement between the Peach Bowl committee and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to not send a Group of 5 team to the Peach Bowl for a second consecutive season.
Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin is on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. But before UCF folks wander down the conspiracy rabbit hole, it’s critical to note that Stricklin engaged in zero discussions about Florida’s bowl destination due to a recusal rule that forces committee members to sit out when and if their programs are discussed.
The Knights, as it turns out, will get an opportunity to play a motivated Power 5 team anyway when they face an LSU team whose leader, Devin White, has called the game “essential to having a successful season” and whose coach, Ed Orgeron, has called a once-a-lifetime “chance to end a 25-game winning streak.”
After the LSU-UCF matchup was set, however, the conspiracy chatter that Florida was “ducking” UCF triggered a larger debate about whether Florida would be willing to play the Knights in the future. That debate escalated at a Peach Bowl event when a reporter asked Stricklin whether the Gators would be interested in playing the Knights in the future.
Stricklin said Florida would be willing to play UCF “in the right situation,” which, per Stricklin, would involve a “2-for-1” where the Knights play two games in The Swamp and the Gators visit Spectrum Stadium and UCF once.
UCF AD Danny White, ever the spin-master, quickly rebutted:
“Top-10 programs don’t schedule 2-for-1 series where the balance is not in their favor. Our growing fan base and our student-athletes deserve better than that.”
Cue the exhausting chaos.
Knights fans, and the always rational folks on UCF Twitter, began tossing mud at the Gators for being bullies and only scheduling opponents on their terms.
Gators fans were mystified that UCF, the program always complaining about being left out of the Playoff, was rejecting a chance for a series of resume-building wins.
Some national analysts, including predictably Danny Kanell, were incredulous the Gators would offer a 2-for-1 — never mind that South Florida, a program that only a decade ago was No. 2 in the BCS rankings in November at a time UCF was backing out of agreed games with Florida, felt a 2-for-1 deal was appropriate.
Other pundits chaffed at Florida’s offer, referencing UF’s ignominious history of “ducking” in-state opponents.
Y’all really out here defending Florida scheduling without having any idea of the history of Florida scheduling and how they do things…do people do research anymore?! A google search can help you…
— Ian Hest (@IanHest) December 15, 2018
Presumably, this is a reference to Florida’s decision to no longer play Miami annually, which then-Florida AD Bill Arnsparger made in the late 1980s and which, despite a 1-1-1 series, Jeremy Foley honored during his storied tenure at Florida. Fair point, I guess, except Stricklin isn’t Arnsparger and with all due respect to UCF’s accomplishments, the Canes had won multiple national championships by the time Florida backed out, citing its already-difficult, expanding conference schedule.
In a way, I get where White is coming from.
Maybe UCF shouldn’t be getting “big-timed” by Florida.
After all, while Florida has wandered the wilderness this decade under four coaching staffs, UCF has qualified for three New Year’s 6 Bowl games in the past six seasons, previously winning the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.
The Knights went 0-12 in 2015, which makes issuing a series of demands a bit awkward, but in the main, this is an ascendant program that has won 10 games or more five times this decade (to Florida’s two 10-win seasons) and presently holds the 22nd-longest winning streak in the history of college football. In other words, UCF has made every argument it can make on the field for inclusion in a “Big 4” in the State of Florida (joining Florida State, Miami and UF). A Florida victory over UCF might not receive much acclaim on message boards or with casual fans, but it would be a respected win in football circles.
For all these reasons, a Florida-UCF matchup in a New Year’s 6 game — or anywhere — has intrigue.
What I don’t get is why UCF would refuse an opportunity to play Florida, even if it involved a 2-for-1.
Sure, the Gators have yet to formally “offer” the deal Stricklin proposed, as reported here yesterday. But the fact UCF felt the need to officially clarify that tells you the debate is trending against them.
White is one of the rising stars in the industry, young, smart, visionary.
The fact this column and so many others are being written on this debate is, to some extent, proof his very public opposition to Stricklin’s proposal and the current Playoff system are helping keep attention on the Knights and expand UCF’s brand. But he’d be mad not to take a 2-for-1 with the Gators.
Worse yet, he’d be failing to give his student-athletes the “chance” he thinks they should have. Here’s what he told College GameDay in October, when the Knights’ winning streak reached 20 and too many fans offered smarmy dismissal of the streak because “UCF ain’t played nobody except an unmotivated Auburn, Pawwwlll …”
— Danny White (@UCFDannyWhite) October 22, 2018
The key language here: “College Football is the only sport not settled on the field …” and “our student-athletes don’t want anything given to them … they just want a chance.”
A 2-for-1 offer, from an in-state college football blue blood, is just that — a chance.
UCF’s fundamental critique of this system is that it isn’t given a chance, and when people point to the Knights’ schedule, they tend to say “well, no one will play us.”
Well, Danny, here’s an in-state program willing to play you — and suddenly your argument is “our program is better” and “we won’t do it unless it is on our terms.”
It’s fine to move the goal posts sometimes — that’s how progress is made.
But stop with the strident, self-righteous insistence you’ll play anyone, anywhere, anytime. This is evidence you won’t.
That’s a shame, because UCF should.
To be fair, in the past, UCF has taken on plenty of comers.
Since 2010, including bowl games, the Knights have played or scheduled the following Power 5 schools: N.C. State, Kansas State, Georgia, Boston College, Ohio State, Missouri, Penn State, South Carolina, Louisville, Rutgers, Baylor, Stanford, Michigan, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Of those opponents, South Carolina, Missouri and Maryland went home-and-home with the Knights; Penn State opted to play one in State College (which UCF won) and one in Ireland. UCF has also played Texas in recent memory, with the final game of an agreed 2-for-1, set for 2023, being canceled by the Knights this past spring.
Still, as great as these games are, there’s nothing like the hype, excitement and buildup of taking on the flagship institution in your home state.
Let’s dispel with a critical fiction: White isn’t “standing up to a bully” by insisting the Gators play UCF on his terms. Bullies don’t offer a fight to begin with. All White is doing is ducking Florida, a decision that makes no football sense.
For one thing, from a recruiting standpoint alone, standing toe-to-toe with the monied, snobby Gators is immense if UCF wants to make the state a “Big 4” in the minds of blue-chip recruits, which is UCF’s fastest path to the big-time and one that will matter immensely if the Knights are invited, as they should be, to the Big 12 when expansion again becomes inevitable.
For another, it’s a series that opens alumni checkbooks.
Want to fire up your young, expanding and thriving alumni base and have them write big checks?
Beat the Gators, the top-10 public whose alumni UCF alums have to work with and take lip from, season in and season out.
In the end, White might feel that the current system, which he calls an “invitational” and not a Playoff, disincentives a 2-for-1 against an in-state giant. He might think that any revenue benefits of playing a brand as large as Florida three times is offset by the potential a loss to the Gators could eliminate UCF from the revenue guarantees inclusion in the New Year’s 6 would provide as the top-ranked Group of 5 team. It’s easier to stand on the “it’s not fair” soapbox and slam the system when you’re bank account is still benefitting from it, isn’t it?
You can argue that’s a cynical view, but it’s certainly a sensible one.
It’s just a shame college football will miss out on a fun series.