The news all UCF Knight fans have been waiting for – an invitation to join the Big East Conference – is not there…yet.
Wednesday, Orlando’s WKMG Local 6 sports director, David Pingalore, reported that the University of Central Florida and Memphis were on the verge of receiving an invitation to join the league as early as next week. According to his college football sources, the invitation was “highly likely.” However, it appears those reports are inaccurate.
“Those reports are not true,” Big East commissioner, John Marinatto told AOL Fanhouse. Big East associate commissioner, John Paquette, also told the news site “there is no truth to those reports.”
In April, UCF was listed as the top target for the Big East if expansion was to occur and they were to lose any of their teams.
“If this does happen we’ve got to be proactive, we’ve got to be ready for Central Florida,” Louisville coach, Rick Pitino, told AOL Fanhouse. “We’ve got to be ready to get two other programs into this equation.”
The Big East conference expected to lose one to three teams to the Big Ten during their recent expansion. Unfortunately for the Knights, the Big Ten chose Nebraska from the Big 12 and left the Big East in tact for now. The reports by Local 6 suggested that Rutgers was to be pulled from the Big East to the Big Ten, but those reports were also premature
The Big Ten adding more teams, like Rutgers, at this juncture is just not a viable option in terms of scheduling. They are already struggling to put together two divisions (comprised of six teams in each) to compete for a conference title. Adding one or more teams would cause even more confusion and disagreement within the league and its beneficiaries.
Therefore, it seems the Big Ten will remain a 12-team league through the remainder of this season but is expected to continue its expansion talks in the next 12 to 18 months.
If the Big 12 were to break up earlier this month, with teams joining the Big Ten and Pac-10, the remaining teams would have been Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Iowa State. The Big East would have picked up those teams rather than UCF because of their experience and prominence in both football and basketball. Instead, the Big 12 preserved its conference (minus Nebraska and Colorado) and the Knights still have a shot at being included in a BCS conference over the next several months.
UCF has eagerly awaited an invitation to join a BCS conference over the last few years. And why not? UCF is the third-largest university in the nation by enrollment and continues to grow every year. It’s located smack-dab in the middle of one of the greatest states in terms of recruiting along with the 19th largest television market in Orlando. It has great facilities including a new on-campus football stadium, state-of-the-art basketball arena, the only indoor football practice facility in the state of Florida, and many other projects set to be under construction this year. That’s all coming from an athletics department without BCS money.
Also, the attendance for home and away games are staggering for a Conference USA team. Not to mention the fact that there is a huge rivalry stirring between UCF and USF (Big East member), with campuses only an hour from one another.
Furthermore, UCF has done rather well in their five years in C-USA. During that time, UCF’s football program won one conference championship, was runner-up in another, and was selected to three bowl games. The men’s basketball team recently signed former Marshall Head Coach, Donnie Jones, who has a long history of success. Both he and football coach, George O’Leary, have made significant efforts to improve the product of UCF athletics. Both recruiting classes for next season have already been declared the best in school history.
The Big East needs to expand regardless but is afraid to do so because of their connections with both their basketball and football programs.
The Big East’s football league is comprised of eight teams: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, South Florida and West Virginia. The lack of members prevents the conference from holding a championship game and makes the league irrelevant in terms of competition and national exposure.
The Big East basketball schedule, on the other hand, is already one of the toughest in the nation. You can see why when you add Depaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, St. Johns, and Villanova.
The problem for the Big East is developing a system that keeps the powerful basketball conference together while also strengthening the football competition. Notre Dame could play a key role here, as some Big East representatives have inferred the school should join the football league also or leave all together. It is also important to note that the Big Ten has already extended an offer for the Irish to join their league as well. Notre Dame has decided to stay independent in football for the time being but its decision in the near future could have large repercussions on the rest of the league.
Though the Local 6 reports are inaccurate at this time, the idea surrounding the addition of the University of Central Florida to the Big East conference is still a highly discussed topic.
“Obviously I think we have everything in place to move,” George O’Leary told AOL Fanhouse in late April. “We’re working the back doors to make sure we’re on the lips of people. A lot of statements are being made and UCF is being mentioned. I think that’s what you want.”
UCF needs to jump on the BCS-conference train real quick if they expect to eventually be a powerhouse on the national stage. Time is running out. Thursday, Utah became the first non-BCS school to join a major conference after bouncing from the Mountain West Conference to join the Pac-10.
If the BCS conferences continue to expand as expected, only the teams in those “super conferences” will have a shot at a BCS bowl game. That means if UCF is left out of this round of conference expansion, the Knights could be waiting a LONG time to be recognized on a national level.
“There are a lot of a major pluses why UCF would be considered,” O’Leary told AOL Fanhouse. “The big thing is all we can do is win, continue to do the things we need to do and all the other things will take care of itself.”