Any talk of Big East expansion and Villanova, always brings us back to UCF.
Inevitably in any post on the matter, there is the usual complaint that Villanova isn’t worth bringing into the Big East, and the Big East should just invite UCF into the Big East.
The reasons in favor of UCF are well known:
— Located in Florida which is a fertile football recruiting state.
— Is the Number Two university nationally in enrollment when you include the 10 satellite campuses, and their community college partnerships.
— A rising program in C-USA under George O’Leary after winning their first bowl game ever in 2010 — a 45-44 record in the past 7 years.
I don’t ask this entirely facetiously. I ask this, because what does all that mean for Big East expansion?
What does adding an 18th member overall, do for the Big East?
What kind of ratings do the Knights get for their games? Are they the top draw on TV in their home market or are they somewhere behind Florida and FSU? They averaged just over 38,000 per game last year — also known as Cinci levels. They’ve made progress in basketball, but does anyone really go to the games or are they attended like DePaul and USF games? Answer: apparently a nice improvement this year
Just as Villanova does not deliver the Philly market — merely a claim of it — is that all UCF offers for Orlando right now? Will the presence of UCF markedly increase the money for the Big East’s next media contract significantly more than without them? Enough to offset the loss to each school for splitting the pie further?
We know why UCF wants into the Big East. They want the larger TV revenue. The greater exposure. The better access to competing nationally and recruiting at that level.
What does UCF do for the Big East right now, or even in 3-5 years? While the Big East has been painfully stupid about a lot of things, I will try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they have considered the economics and impact of adding another full member. That they have talked to their TV partners and consultants about what kind of value would be expected from adding UCF.
I’m not talking about a Big East where the football and basketball schools finally split. Where it makes sense to have 10-12 full members. I’m talking about the present configuration that splits the basketball revenue 17 ways and football revenue 9 (or possibly 10) ways.
The Big East is in a catbird seat with UCF. Just as the Big 10/11/12 is with Missouri, Rutgers or Pitt. Or the ACC is with Syracuse, UConn or Pitt. The conference has the strength with their money and stability, that when they want that team they will jump without a look back.
No one else is going to poach UCF. Not the Big 12/10. Not the SEC. Not the ACC. The best and only option for UCF is the Big East. Second-best is an MWC-C-USA alliance. That is a very weak second option.
This situation right now is very different from when the Big East expanded to 18 and raided C-USA for Louisville, Cinci and USF in football. The Big East needed 8 football teams to preserve their spot in the BCS. They had no choice but to take the chance on Cinci and USF — especially USF. They had to hope they were as committed as claimed and would develop.
Now, though, the Big East may be the weakest of the BCS conferences, they are not in the same spot. Big East Commish John Marinatto may be an ineffectual commissioner, but he was right when he said that the Big East doesn’t have to expand right now.
Getting TCU was different. The Big East’s recent slippage in football necessitated the reaching out to the geographically awkward Horned Frogs. UCF offers none of that. They are a promising program, but no history and definitely not there yet. Plus, with 9 teams, that puts the conference games up to 8. A full slate, and one less non-con to schedule. Making sure that each team always has 4 home conference games every year. UCF is not anywhere near that level in terms of on-the-field performance. Right now, they haven’t shown the consistency of a mid-level Big East program.
UCF for lack of a better way of describing it, is the back-up girlfriend (or boyfriend). Wants you. Nice enough, decent looking and at times can really look hot. Yet, you aren’t totally sold. Maybe aiming higher. Maybe there’s someone else. Yet you don’t want to completely close that door.
What happens if the Big 12/10 does implode like it nearly did last year? Texas goes independent or does make a move to the Pac-12 with another school (Oklahoma). Texas A&M goes off to the SEC. Suddenly there are options with the rest of the Big 12/10. Missouri, Kansas, K-State all just sitting there. Maybe even Texas Tech or Baylor.
It’s easier and cheaper to add teams to a conference than kick one out. Unless there is concrete evidence and the money on the table showing that UCF adds immediate value, there is no compelling reason to add them to the Big East right now.