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Making the case for the University of Central Florida Knights to join the SEC


After the events of the past weekend, it is obvious that conference alignment is here…. like it or not.  Texas A&M started the dominoes falling by bolting to the SEC and Syracuse and Pitt shook the foundation of the Big East by announcing their intent for the ACC.  Now there are more than rumblings that UConn wants to join the ACC and that Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State may join the “PAC 16”.  West Virgina has now applied for the SEC and that would give the SEC 14 team, and to be honest, it has become apparent that there will be more teams applying and the SEC more than likely may end up with 16 teams as well.

With the beefed up ACC, I think we can forget about Virginia Tech or FSU joining the SEC, so who is next?  What school can be a real up and riser in the ranks and can be competitive in both football and basketball in the immediate future?  If the SEC wants to go into the 15 or 16 team conference route, I offer up the University of Central Florida Knights for consideration.

Why not them?  Why not now?  Let’s make the case for the Knights.

UCF definitely has the pedigree for the SEC as it is currently the second largest university in the United States by enrollment.  In 2010, UCF reported an enrollment of 56,235 which was second to only Arizona State.  The only other SEC school in the ranks of top 10 public universities is Florida, who was sixth, with 49, 827.  Central Florida is a school on the rise and has moved up this list from fifth in 2008, to third in 2009 and moving ahead of Ohio State in 2010.

Central Florida has the TV market, although to be honest, this would not really be a big pickup for the SEC.  Orlando is currently the 19th largest TV market in the US with about 1.3M households.  However due to the fact that the market is ripe with Florida Gator fans, the SEC would not really be making any inroads here.  The SEC is already king in Orlando, but adding UCF would cement Florida as a solid SEC state.

It would appear the UCF is on pace for the SEC when it comes to facilities.  Their stadium, the Bright House Networks Stadium, was constructed on campus and was opened for the 2007 season.  It currently has a capacity of just 45,301 but had an attendance of 48,453 for the Miami Hurricane game in 2009.  There are plans to expand the stadium to 56,000 within the next 10 years, but ultimately further seating can increase attendance to 65,000.  it would still rank as a smaller SEC stadium, but by not too much.  The facilities do run a bit small for basketball.  UCF built a new on campus basketball arena which has a capacity of 9,465 for basketball.  I do not know how much renovations could raise the capacity of the building to, but even adding a few thousand seats will make it the smallest in the SEC.

UCF could make a serious bid for hosting the SEC Tournament however.  Orlando is home to the brand new $480M Amway Centre which has a capacity for NCAA basketball of 20,000.  The Arena is state of the art and is the home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic.  The prospect of a SEC Tournament in Orlando has to be very appealing to SEC fans, who have all of the tourist destinations at their disposal should their team make an unexpected early exit.

Up until this weekend, I could make a pretty good case for UCF to join the football ranks of the SEC.  That was before they lost to Florida International.  That aside, however, The Knights are coming off an 11-3 season in which they won the CUSA, beat Georgia in a bowl game, and finished in the Top 25.  The Knights went 8-5 the previous year and knocked off then #15 Houston that season.  George O’Leary has built a solid program at UCF and is recruiting well in fertile Florida.  You can almost forget this is the guy that had to resign from Notre Dame for lying on his resume several years ago.

The Knights are a up and coming team in basketball as well and got off to a 14-0 start last season and a spot in the Top 25.  Among their early victims were the Florida Gators.  They faltered to a 21-12 record, but head coach Donnie Jones is an up and coming coach and some consider him one of the main architects for Billy Donovan’s back to back national titles.  And while the Kentucky Wildcats may have LeBron James hanging at their games, the Knights have not one, but two sons of Michael Jordan on their roster.  It was Jordan’s pull alone that got the Knights that exclusive Nike deal, something SEC teams Tennessee and South Carolina don’t have.

I realize that it is for partly selfish reasons I want to see the Knights join the SEC as they reside in my backyard.  But if the SEC is looking for a solid up and rising school to be their 15th or even 16the member, they could do worse than the UCF Knights.

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