Count me among those that feel that UCF has been handed the short end of the stick. Well, count among those that used to feel that the Knights were getting screwed. But, upon seeing how they handled Florida’s recent home-home-away offer, now I’m not so sure that Danny White and the powers that be in Orlando ***actually*** want to play a schedule that could be considered worthy of a final four berth.
Last week, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin revealed that he brought an offer to negotiate the scheduling of a two and one series to the Knights - one that was summarily rebuffed by White and co. Negotiations continued over the course of the next several days before White said they had pulled out, explaining their reasoning thusly: “We have a ton of respect for Scott and their stance on the issue, but playing a non-conference home-and-home with us doesn’t really make sense for them and playing a 2-for-1 really doesn’t make sense for UCF. We’re sold out most likely for the entire season. We don’t need to play games on the road to set up a home sellout. We sell out all the time.”
I think Danny missed the boat.
These series have absolutely nothing to do with sellouts or fans of the schools that play, and everything to do with getting your brand on the national stage - introducing your program to people that would never see it otherwise. The entire state of Florida would be glued to a UCF - Gators matchup, as would college football fans that have spent the last two years arguing over whether the Knights were for real or not. Striking while the iron is hot, while fans across the nation CARE about your team and want to know just got good you are. Bowing out of this opportunity is a bad look, even if taking it feels unfair.
The Knights are a great program - but they need to be willing to prove it, no matter what the perceived cost may be.
Meanwhile, TCU took a challenging path to the land of the Power Five players. The Horned Frogs, under Gary Patterson, often went on the road with no hope for a return game, ascribing to Patterson’s “anyone, anytime, anywhere” scheduling philosophy in an effort to prove themselves.
In 2001, TCU went to Nebraska, losing by two scores. In ‘02, the Frogs beat Northwestern in Evanston. A year later, a two score win over Vanderbilt in Nashville helped propel them to 11 years. That was followed by the memorable thumping at the hands of Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team in Lubbock - a loss that preceded the biggest program-changing win of the Patterson era, when the Frogs went to Norman and stuffed Adrian Peterson and the Sooners. TCU went to Baylor in ‘06, and got a return visit from the Red Raiders - paying them back with the 12-3, “speedy, baby”, victory.
The Frogs were thumped at Texas in 2007 before taking on a pair of Power Five players in 08 - a year that saw them beat Stanford at home and lose to OU in the second half of an away and away again series. Two ACC teams greeted the Frogs the next year - games at Virginia and Clemson, both wins, helped send TCU to their first ever BCS Bowl. And 2010’s neutral site win over Oregon State, coupled with beating the Bears at home, justified the undefeated Horned Frogs invite to the Rose Bowl. The Frogs went back to Waco in their final season of being on the outside looking in.
The Frogs had to humble themselves and realize that top tier programs weren’t going to play them in Fort Worth, where the risk for contenders far outweighs any potential award. It’s one thing for Baylor, Texas Tech, and Northwestern to have been amenable to home and home scheduling, but what would the motivation be for Texas or OU to go on the road to play a Conference USA or Mountain West school?
The answer, of course, is that there isn’t any.
And that brings us back to UCF. You would think that going undefeated in back to back regular seasons would warrant some level of respect, but all it does is make the Knights less appealing to power programs.
The Frogs couldn’t get great teams to come to them, but continued to look for opportunities to play the top flight teams - any time, anyone, anywhere. That strategy paid off in July of 2011, when TCU received an invitation to join the restructured Big 12 Conference. But just because they got to the table doesn’t mean they changed their scheduling philosophy, it just means they have more power at the bargaining table. TCU has home and homes booked with Purdue, Cal, Stanford, Colorado, Duke, and North Carolina in the next 12 years, and has played LSU and Ohio State as neutral site games in addition to a series with Arkansas, since joining the Big 12. Being TCU, despite being in the P5, meant losing return visits by the Buckeyes and Tigers to neutral site agreements, because the Frogs still aren’t a “blue blood” level program in the eyes of many.
For Danny White, Josh Heupel, and the players in that program, they have to remember - in the words of Gary Patterson - “sometimes it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about getting what you need.”
Knights, you want home and homes, but you just need to play.