Big 12 chancellors, presidents and athletic directors meet next week in Irving to discuss several issues, including whether the conference should expand to 12 teams by adding two more.
That may or may not happen, but if it does, what are the Big 12’s expansion options? We’re taking a look at two possible target schools a day this week. Here’s the third:
CENTRAL FLORIDA KNIGHTS
Current conference: American Athletic Conference
Pros: This relatively new school, which didn’t really crank up its athletic program until 1970, already has the second largest total enrollment in the country, trailing only Arizona State. A ton of UCF alumni are being spread all around the Sunshine State, and the Big 12 is the only South/Southwest-based league without a footprint in Florida. Along with the states of Texas and California, Florida rounds out the Big Three for football recruiting, and Orlando is in the center of the action; the Orlando metro area has 2.4 million people, keeps mushrooming and owns the No. 19 TV market (Austin is 49th). What a huge boost Florida could be to a Big 12 Network. Additionally, Orlando is a top-10 tourist destination with Disney World, Universal Studios, Epcot Center and all the rest.
Cons: It’s hard to manufacture tradition, and the school just doesn’t have the history to arouse passion about it one way or another. The school is trying to get the UCF initials to stick to avoid the directional-school stigma, but it’s no USC and too close to UFC, as in the mixed martial arts folks. We’re guessing UCF is the third-most popular school in Orlando behind Florida and Florida State. One could poke fun of the Knights’ 0-12 football team last year (hey, the Big 12 had the other 0-12 — Kansas), but they were 12-1 in 2013 and beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. The facilities are nice and new, but the crowds sometimes lacking. The men’s basketball team averaged 5,298 per home game in 2014-15, ranking 96th.
Best/worst sports: The co-ed cheerleading and dance squad has won two national team titles — two more than all the UCF sports combined. The women’s soccer program once was excellent; former U.S. national star Michelle Akers is an alum. Men’s basketball hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament in 11 years and, despite its talent-rich location, the baseball team tied for last in the AAC.
Longest/shortest Big 12 road trip: Longest — 1,430 miles (Texas Tech); shortest — 900 (West Virginia)
Athletic budget: $47,647,475 (55th nationally)
Enrollment: 60,821 (would rank 1st in the Big 12)
Academic ranking: No. 168, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Current Learfield Cup ranking: No. 215, through the winter sports (86th in 2014-15). Where that ranking places Central Florida among Big 12 schools:
32. Oklahoma State
37. West Virginia
51. Iowa State
70. Kansas State
86. Texas Tech
215. Central Florida
BY THE NUMBERS:
Football stadium: Bright House Networks Stadium (44,206 capacity)
2015 average home football attendance: 30,065
Basketball arena: CFE Arena (capacity 10,000)
Sports offered: 17 (6 men’s, 10 women’s, 1 co-ed)
Football, last 5 years: 36-26 overall, 25-15 in conference (15-9 AAC, 10-6 Conference USA), 2-1 in bowls
UCF vs. Texas: 0-2. The Longhorns won the only two meetings, in 2007 (35-32) and 2009 (35-3).
Kevin Lyttle’s odds: 12-to-1. Staking out a claim in the heart of Florida is intriguing. But is the sprawling Orlando school a sleeping giant, or just a great place to take a family vacation?
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