With Gus Malzahn on board, UCF would be foolish not to line up 2-for-1s with SEC programs
I’m a Terry Mohajir fan, and I think you should be, too.
Who’s Mohajir? He’s the new UCF athletic director who, in the last month or so, hired Butch Jones and Gus Malzahn. Granted, he hired Jones while still at Arkansas State, but giving Jones another head coaching opportunity isn’t why you should be a Mohajir fan. At least that shouldn’t be the primary reason.
Even bringing Malzahn to UCF isn’t necessarily a reason for you to become a Mohajir fan. I’m an Orlando resident, though I’m not necessarily a Mohajir fan strictly because I thought he made a savvy move by tapping into Malzahn’s boredom and getting him to forget that he’s going to collect $21.45 million over the next 4 years not to work.
Why should you be a Mohajir fan? This response:
Terry Mohajir leaves door open to playing a 2-for-1 w/ UCF playing a P5 opponent.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) February 15, 2021
In case you were wondering, Malzahn said they’d play Power 5 teams in a parking lot. Sign me up for that.
That might look like a ho-hum answer from Mohajir, but let’s consider what that means — we could actually see UCF schedule a 2-for-1 with an SEC opponent. Mohajir made sure to say that the “1” would be played at the Bounce House, which is UCF’s home stadium. In other words, it wouldn’t be some “neutral” site game at Camping World Stadium, AKA the home of the Citrus Bowl. It wouldn’t be played at an NFL stadium like Jacksonville or Tampa, either.
Good. Sign me up for that, too.
Sign me up for Mohajir getting on the phone and lining up that 2-for-1 with his predecessor, Danny White at Tennessee. Go figure that it was White who stood his ground and scoffed at the 2-for-1 idea for UCF. His point was that why would UCF need to play 2 road games against a Power 5 team when it had been one of the premier programs in America in (very) recent memory?
It’s basic supply and demand. Sure, it was cool that UCF lined up home-and-homes with Pitt, Maryland, Stanford and other programs that didn’t carry much weight for the Playoff selection committee.
Speaking of the selection committee, that’s what this is all about. Mohajir acknowledged that brand matters. The combination of having a national brand with a household name head coach who knows what he’s doing matters, too.
UCF went undefeated twice and missed the Playoff. If UCF goes undefeated in 2021, it’ll have to beat the likes of Louisville, Boise State and Cincinnati. Would that be enough to make the Playoff? Eh, maybe. Maybe not. Malzahn will certainly help the profile, but he can’t help if 2 of the most notable teams on the schedule (Louisville and Boise State) don’t even sniff the Top 25.
But if UCF suddenly lines up a 2-for-1 with Tennessee? Well, that changes things. You might be thinking to yourself — what does Tennessee have that Louisville doesn’t? Hmmmmm. Besides being in the SEC, how about a big national following with one of those most passionate fan bases in America?
By the way, I’m 99.9% sure that Twitter’s face would melt off if Tennessee fans and UCF fans met on the internet for an actual game.
We could move beyond Tennessee. What about Florida? Can you imagine how anticipated that matchup would be? Scott Stricklin has said that he’d do a 2-for-1 with UCF, but White publicly rejected it. Mohajir seems to see the bigger picture.
UCF isn’t going to change perceptions by sitting on its hands and wearing those Power 6 T-shirts. That’s not how this sport changes. One neutral-site New Year’s 6 bowl victory doesn’t change that, either. It’s been done before, and it’ll be done again. For Group of 5 teams, perception changes by consistently beating a team in a different tax bracket. Whether that’s in the parking lot or in The Swamp, people will notice if and when that happens.
You know what people will notice? If Cincinnati goes into Notre Dame and wins. Luke Fickell’s squad has a legitimate path to the Playoff this year, and it’s because his athletic director was willing to schedule a road game in South Bend … and without demanding a home game in return.
Fair or not, the Power 5 still sets the table for everyone else. That’s true even for Cincinnati, which will likely start in the top 10 after going to a New Year’s 6 bowl. Consider this: After a Top-25 finish in 2018, Cincinnati set up a road matchup at Arkansas, which was fresh off a 2-10 season that didn’t include an SEC win. In fact, Arkansas was a combined 6-18 the previous 2 years.
Since this 2-for-1 issue came to the forefront in the last couple of years, UCF treated it like a slap in the face. McKenzie Milton claimed that UCF was “the better program” than Florida and that it’s the Gators who should have to give up the 2-for-1.
With all due respect to Milton, who has had one hell of a road to get back to playing football after a devastating injury, that’s not how this works. When you’re one of the schools pulling in $45 million annually in conference revenue sharing like Florida and the rest of the SEC, you set the terms. That’s a different story than schools in the AAC, which earned an average of $7.47 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year. Hence, why a struggling SEC program like Arkansas was able to get a home game with Cincinnati without needing to play in a true road game at a Group of 5 school. The AAC can claim “Power 6” all it wants, but those 7-figure revenue checks for playing a Power 5 road game are massive for those schools.
On the flip side, why does this finally make sense for a Tennessee or a Florida to entertain that? Isn’t that only a scenario in which they can open themselves up for national embarrassment?
Yes and no. Florida was willing to offer the 2-for-1 even when UCF was at the peak of its powers. Notice the key thing there. The “2.” The “2” is 2 nonconference games in which you know The Swamp will be sold out. It’ll have a national audience. Those home game revenue checks are big, which we were reminded of in a year with reduced capacity crowds and roughly 2-3 fewer home games on average per SEC team (schools like LSU lost tens of millions of dollars in ticket revenue in 2020).
Now, the goal for plenty of SEC programs will be to add as many of those games as possible to recoup that lost revenue. And for UCF, which has multiple nonconference game slots to fill beginning in 2023, this would be the perfect time to do it. Florida has limited available slots because Stricklin loaded up on future Power 5 home-and-homes — likely trying to get ahead of the curve when Playoff expansion inevitably happens — but things can be moved around. Tennessee, meanwhile, is essentially free as a bird come 2024.
There’s also zero doubt that for programs like Florida or Tennessee, there would be plenty of fans who’d gladly travel to Orlando.
Sure, there’s downside to this. There’s also downside to an SEC school hosting a Group of 5 team, only to lose the game and a nice chunk of change. Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, MSU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all did that in the last 5 years. That’s not including Group of 5 road losses for Mizzou and Ole Miss.
But the 2-for-1 incentive is now extremely favorable — and obvious — for both parties. It’d be a tough look for either side to reject this now.
Mohajir is determined to capitalize on this opportunity to build UCF’s national brand with Malzahn on board. The market dictated that UCF isn’t getting these home-and-homes with SEC programs, and all scoffing at them did was make its path to the Playoff that much more narrow. If Mohajir doesn’t pick up the phone and call White at Tennessee or Stricklin at Florida, it’d be a surprise, especially considering the way he talked about scheduling at Malzahn’s introductory press conference.
This needs to happen. And when it does, well, sign us all up for that.