If the depleted Big 12 comes calling, should UCF listen? It's complicated
A few months ago, a major shakeup in the SEC involving a traditional power directly impacted UCF. It led not only to the Knights losing their athletic director to Tennessee, but also their head coach.
The question now is whether history is about to repeat itself – is another shakeup in the SEC involving traditional powers about to directly impact UCF?
The Big 12 appears to be falling apart at the seams. Speculation about its next move is all over the place. Will the Big 12 blow up? Or will it look to add teams to try to fill the monumental void left by Texas and Oklahoma? And could UCF be one of those teams?
That’s reality now. It could be reality for teams like Houston, BYU and Cincinnati, too.
Hey, I’m sure this tweet from Cincinnati’s official athletic account was a total coincidence and definitely not a pitch to the Big 12:
Cincinnati means sustained success.
We’re all about the Next Level.
— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) July 26, 2021
One would think that if the Big 12 is going to remain a conference, it cannot stand pat at 8 teams. And if that doesn’t happen, the AAC could look to do the poaching as the top Group of 5 conference.
Oh, that’s right. It’s “Power 6,” according to former UCF athletic director and current Tennessee athletic director Danny White, who left a top-flight Group of 5 program for … a struggling Power 5 program that is currently under NCAA investigation.
There’s certainly a dilemma there. At least for the Big 12. One would think it’ll fight to maintain its current structure rather than watch its member schools all find new homes.
This, as the Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte wrote, is worth keeping in mind:
“The source said it’s unlikely the Big 12 survives the loss of its top two revenue-producing schools, which would set off a scramble for the remaining schools to find a new home once the league’s grant-of-rights agreement ends in 2025. However, if the Big 12 looks to expand, one source said there are no schools that would bring significant value.”
Maybe that “no schools that would bring significant value” sentiment would change with a backs-against-the-wall reality for the Big 12. Things are also different now than in 2016, back when the Big 12 had, ironically enough, 12 schools in the running for expansion.
That list was:
- Air Force
- South Florida
- Colorado State
None was good enough. Then again, that wasn’t quite as urgent of a time as now. It was also before UCF played in consecutive New Year’s 6 bowls, and it was before Cincinnati became a likely preseason top-10 team.
At the time, it made sense why those schools would bid for a chance to join the Big 12. Money. As in, more of it. In 2015-16, the Big 12 member schools split a pool of $304 million. In 2019-20, the AAC reported $111,278,729 in total revenue, and UCF got a payout of $5.359 million (via Orlando Sentinel).
In other words, even years later, the Big 12 was still far more lucrative than the AAC. In case you were wondering, the Big 12’s revenue pool for 2019-20 was $439 million, and payouts ranged from $38.2 million to $42 million (USA Today).
Of course, that Big 12 revenue was with Texas and Oklahoma. That value is much different if UCF and BYU are at those TV rights negotiation meetings. That’s reality.
And yes, I know that UCF has a massive enrollment. It also draws less than half as many fans as either Texas or Oklahoma on a given Saturday.
It would be wild to live in a world in which UCF bid on a shot to play in the Big 12, only to then turn around and stand pat 5 years later. That’s a hypothetical world, of course. We don’t know what sort of phone calls the Big 12 is making. Shoot, the Big 12 apparently didn’t even know that its 2 biggest programs were calling the SEC on the side. Anything is possible.
It’s also possible that UCF is chomping at the bit at another opportunity at joining the Big 12. It’s a different program now than it was 5 years ago, and all signs point to new athletic director Terry Mohajir pushing the envelope. He’s the one who reportedly helped finally set up that Florida-UCF series. And at a place where the new Name, Image and Likeness era is being welcomed with open arms, wouldn’t UCF want to do so in a more recognizable conference?
That question is more complicated than whether UCF is intrigued by the Big 12. Let’s say Iowa State sees a sinking ship and agrees to join the Big Ten or Oklahoma State locks in a deal to become the Pac-12’s newest school. Would the Big 12 really be in position to add teams? Or would it simply have to cut its losses and watch conferences like the AAC swoop in and gather up the remains?
There’s also this scenario, which could present itself:
“It will be fascinating to see what UCF chooses to do, the Big 12 had the opportunity to add UCF a couple years ago and chose not to. UCF could be better served to stay in the American and wait for the ACC to come calling” – @ESPNRittenberg on In The Zone w/ @BrandonKravitz pic.twitter.com/Ez3DcdgAzb
— 96.9 The Game (@969thegame) July 26, 2021
That’s the best situation possible for UCF. It isn’t hoping that the AAC adding a couple Big 12 castoffs earns the conference more national respect, and a move to the Big 12 would also be a risk for all of those obvious reasons.
Say what you want about the current level of competition in the ACC beyond Clemson (it should be better with UNC and Miami this year). That’s a league with stability. If the ACC wants to get on the SEC’s level and add 2 teams, UCF would make a ton of sense. Florida State might not exactly be eager to add another school from the Sunshine State, but as we saw with Texas A&M getting on board with Texas joining the SEC, that’s not a deal-breaker.
If you’re UCF, you have to be aware of all the moving pieces right now. There might be an opportunity to join a power conference, and there might not be. The latter would include sticking in the AAC and hoping that the combination of the NIL era with the 12-team Playoff will yield an even higher program ceiling in the 2020s.
UCF joining the Big 12 should only be contingent on the other member schools staying on board. Otherwise, that’s just jumping on a sinking ship. Nobody wants to do that right now.
There’s a path for UCF to sail into the new era of college football with a reshaped identity. Will it do so with a new conference?
One would think we won’t have to wait long to find out if UCF will get — and answer — the call.