UCF athletics is on the verge of becoming a national powerhouse.
UCF was established in 1963 and, since then, it has become the second-largest university in the nation. Its athletics program was originally a part of Division II but moved to Division I in 1984.
The biggest victory so far in UCF’s brief history was the football team’s victory over Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. But after that victory, UCF football declined and went 0-12 in the 2015 season under former head coach George O’Leary.
UCF basketball has not had much success in the recent years either. It has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2005 and has only appeared in the “big dance” four times in its history.
The football and basketball programs are the lifeline for other sports in college athletics; they play a major part in determining a school’s prestige and the amount of revenue it generates.
UCF President John C. Hitt knows that the two main programs, football and basketball, need to be successful.
Hitt hired Danny White to be the director of athletics in May; since then, he has revamped nearly the entire athletics program, replacing six head coaches.
“This place has so many assets, so many competitive advantages,” White said at a press conference on July 20. “That’s why I jumped at the opportunity [to join UCF] and [am] grateful for Dr. Hitt for giving me the opportunity to bring my family here.”
White hired Scott Frost as new football head coach, Johnny Dawkins as the men’s basketball head coach, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson as the women’s basketball head coach, John Roddick as the men’s tennis head coach, Bryan Koniecko as the women’s tennis head coach and Greg Lovelady as the baseball head coach.
It might seem like an extreme make-over, but these coaches have a winning pedigree with great success at their previous institutions. I believe that they can take UCF to the next level of program hierarchy in the NCAA.
UCF is home to top-notch athletic facilities, and Orlando is a highly sought after tourist destination with an extreme number of activities to take part in.
“When prospects come here, they see how beautiful our campus is,” said UCF women’s soccer head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak in a June interview. “Orlando is a beautiful city.”
It’s also a major city that hosts primetime events. It was one of the host cities to FIFA’s 2016 Copa America, and the 2017 NFL Pro-Bowl will be in Orlando. The Knights have the ability to pitch Orlando as a growing city to potential recruits.
UCF has hopes of potentially joining the Big 12 Conference after three seasons in the American Athletic Conference, and I am sure that they are emphasizing the school’s size, facilities and the potential for growth in its campaign to join the Big 12. Other schools being considered for the move to the Big 12 include BYU and Houston.
“I think this place will be a nationally elite athletic department,” White said. “We can compete with anybody nationally ... it doesn’t really matter what league we’re in.”
UCF is making strides toward building its revenue base to invest even more in the sports programs going forward, White said.
“We just got to focus on building our season ticket-base, our fan-base, getting our donations up,” White said. “If we do that, I think our competitive advantages are going to take over.”
UCF has not reached powerhouse status of yet, but the potential is there for the Knights to reach that mark in the upcoming years.
Jean Racine is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @jeangracine or email him at JeanR@CentralFloridaFuture.com