Why USF is right (and UCF is wrong) about 2-for-1 football series

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When UCF chooses to reject those options, they should also lose the right to complain.

The University of South Florida Bulls announced Thursday, to the delight of their football fans, an agreement to play three games against perennial powerhouse Alabama. The teams will meet in Tampa in 2023, then Tuscaloosa in 2024 and 2026.

Not delighted: University of Central Florida fans.

See, the growing Knights fan base, an increasingly loud force on social media known as the “UCF Mafia,” have been echoing their outspoken athletic director, Danny White, with complaints that the biggest college football programs in the country were “afraid“ to schedule them.

That turned out to be untrue, as Florida’s athletic director had contacted White about a series — and White wasn’t interested.

White’s talking points then changed, complaining about the terms the NCAA’s largest football programs demand from a relatively low-income program like UCF: two games at their house in exchange for one at yours.

“We shouldn’t have to” accept a 2-for-1 series, UCF Nation argues on behalf of fairness, saying they would be giving up a competitive advantage as well as revenue from the loss of a half home game over the three-season agreement.

But see, the financial issue really isn’t that significant. Public records reveal the school took in just $4.6 million from football tickets during their undefeated 2017 season. That’s $764,500 per game. So, to lose half a game’s gate ($382,000 over the course of three seasons) is hardly enough reason to shun a great matchup.

For UCF, it’s about pride and admitting they’re not an NCAA powerhouse yet where it matters most: revenue.

UCF’s athletics budget in FY18 was $62 million. And more than almost any other school in the nation, those expenses are balanced on the backs of students.

Student fees accounted for $23.1 million of UCF’s athletic revenue — that’s a mandatory fee for every student who attends classes at the university, even though most will never go to a single football game. UCF supported its athletics program with another $4.5 million last year from its main (academics) operations.

Most NCAA programs don’t bring in enough revenue to support their entire athletics budget, so UCF is not alone. But its revenues are far enough behind the teams in the “Power Five” conferences to explain why they don’t get to call their own shots on scheduling like Florida, Alabama, and Texas do.

Last year, UCF upped its booster donations to $8.2 million — a great haul for an American Athletic Conference team, but a far cry from the $43.3 million in donations the University of Florida used on its athletics program last year or the $55.1 million Florida State reported collecting. Of course, AAC conference revenues also pale in comparison to those UF and FSU collect from the SEC and ACC, respectively.

USF, meanwhile, whose booster contributions dropped to just $2.2 million last year, has clearly taken a different strategy when it comes to building alumni support and its program’s revenues while playing in the not-so-lucrative AAC.

The Bulls’ just-announced series with Alabama is only the latest 2-for-1 concession the program has agreed to. Earlier this month, it announced three-game series with Miami and Texas. Last year, it announced a 2-for-1 series against the Florida Gators.

USF hopes to parlay the big events — and potentially big upset wins — into excitement for the program. Excitement can be translated into new ticket sales, bigger booster donations, and larger revenues.

Perhaps most importantly, a bigger following could mean better TV ratings, the golden ticket into a Power Five conference like the Big 12, which would deliver the monster broadcast and tournament revenues the Bulls and Knights both desperately long for.

But right now, neither USF nor UCF has done enough to impress the Big 12 — remember, it’s more about the dollars than the wins. And while both programs seem to be heading in the right direction, it’s very slow growth on the budget sheet.

Frankly, the growth is much slower than UCF would like to admit.

It’s a long and unfair process that favors the traditional powerhouses and schools that turned their back on conferences like the Big East in favor of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12.

The system is stacked against low-revenue teams like USF and UCF, but complaining about it does about as much good as the Rays complaining that they’re expected to compete against the Red Sox and Yankees every year.

Fortunately for USF and UCF, they do have a choice, and they do have a pathway to prove themselves against the best teams in the country, like Alabama, who are under zero obligation to schedule additional tough games outside the already-toughest schedules in the country.

And if a school like UCF decides it doesn’t like the terms of the deal, they have every right to reject it.

However, when UCF chooses to reject those options, they should also lose the right to complain about the lack of big games on their schedule.

Noah Pransky

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.


12 comments

  • Bryan J Smith

    May 23, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Sit down with UCF AD Danny White and he will correct your math. Your statements about both football revenue and the amount funded by athletic fees are wrong.

    E.g., Ohio University is far worse than UCF, as is USF.

    There is just so much wrong in this article. And that’s before we consider how USF loses money on home games, and doesn’t travel like UCF does.

    No one is going to give UCF a 2-1-0, and the terms in a 2-0-1 like Florida offered, UCF will not accept. Meanwhile, UCF has offered a 0-0-1 (neutral field) to several, but no one wants to ‘sell against’ UCF when the proceeds are based on ticket sales.

    UCF travels too good, better than Auburn or far better than LSU, let alone even back in ’13, UCF sent more to the Fiesta Bowl than the Big East did … combined.

    No one wants to offer UCF anything that it will accept.

    • Donald

      May 25, 2019 at 9:49 pm

      Laughable you think the travel better than LSU.

      • Bryan J Smith

        May 26, 2019 at 12:42 am

        You really don’t follow UCF, do you?
        It’s not only the *best* traveling G5, but it travels better than a *majority* of P5s.

        LSU hadn’t been to a New Year’s Bowl in 6 years, and had never been to the Fiesta.
        UCF was going to its 3rd New Year’s Bowl in 6 years, its 2nd Fiesta.
        UCF outnumbered LSU 2-to-1 in the stands … and UCF had to travel twice as far.

        UCF outnumbered Auburn at the Peach Bowl as well, which was 4x closer to Auburn.

        And back in 2013, UCF sent more people to the Fiesta than the 3 prior Big East teams … *combined* — Pitt, UConn and WVU.

        I was talking with the Fiesta Bowl reps before the game, and they all wanted UCF. Despite what the Sports Media trash talks, UCF’s reputation as a traveling bowl team is well-known, especially among the CFP committee.

        I.e., one of the reasons they sent UCF to the Fiesta instead of back to the Peach had a lot to do with how much better UCF would travel than Florida to the Fiesta.

        Sorry that you really don’t know UCF. You might also want to check UCF’s TV ratings … for the entire decade of the 2010s, not just ’13, ’17 and ’18 (although those will be the highest, of course).

        • Bobwhite

          May 28, 2019 at 10:59 am

          If all of these^^ things you have apparently convinced yourself of are true, then UCF’s financial situation is the 8th wonder of the world. Conferences should be beating down Danny White’s door to snatch up UCF if everything you say is true.

          Amazing, the best traveling fan base in the world still needs a 40% subsidy to make budget. LOL. Somebody who works in the football office is either embezzling money or your exclusion from the Power5 is the biggest conspiracy theory in the modern world. Which is it ?

          • Bryan J Smith

            May 28, 2019 at 1:07 pm

            If you mean UCF’s revenue outside of TV is better than some P5 programs, you’re correct. It’s part of the reason why there’s a lot of ‘flak.’ And once you include TV, it gets really scary.

            E.g., back in ’13, UCF’s TV viewership was good enough to be Big XII average. Now it would make UCF #3 in the Big XII, behind only Texas and Oklahoma.

            And yes, without TV, UCF gets 40% of its revenue from athletic fees. With any P5 contract, UCF would not only need 0% athletic fees, but would run a surplus.

            Find another G5 like that … or start looking at home many P5s utterly need to ‘collect a paycheck.’ 😉

            The problem right now with P5 conferences is that ESPN and others are *refusing* to pay more money. Otherwise UCF would be in a P5 conference, on sheer money making ability for, say, the Big XII.

            But right now if the Big XII would add UCF, ESPN would give it *0* more dollars, even though UCF would have higher ratings than 8 of its 10, existing conference members. That’s part of the problem.

            Do you not keep up with sports media or something?

  • Craig Schweitzer

    May 24, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Just so you realize since you are a sports reporter in Florida: Rays are 2 games back from New York and 3.5 games ahead of Boston…so your comparison is really just uneducated.

    Why would a top 10 team in the nation give up home field advantage when we can still get to the top 10 in the nation without it. When was USF in the top 10 again?? Are we jealous that USF is playing big games? Sure. Are we jealous of how they got them? Not a chance. They are giving up everything to get a tiny slice of a pie. They have no backing to try to do anything else. What they are doing is hurting our conference’s chances of being considered a major conference…so we are more upset than jealous.

    • Gabe shun

      May 24, 2019 at 11:48 am

      This article lost me in saying losing only half of your normal revenue per game really isn’t that big a deal. Then going on the highlight the fact that ucf’s football revenue pales in comparison to other big programs. Who in their right mind would mind losing half of there paycheck when doing their job? Not to mention, when UF “offered” the initial 2-1 series, it was done publicly and more as a show. That’s not how games are planned or offered. USF has been able to schedule all of these games behind close doors and disclose information when they were ready without any drama around it. The fact that UF did that sounds more like a cry for drama and to flash their prestige around more than make a real offer. You can see this in all the recent drama surrounding that program from the coach’s to players too. I am a knights fan, and I do believe some things Ucf has done has been kinda off in terms of football. But that doesn’t dismiss that fact that Ucf is a great program and does deserve respect. These 2-1 series make the AAC look weak and willing to conform to others just for name sake. To have Ucf basically elevate the whole conference to a new level, have a team like USF who hasn’t done anything substantial in recent years schedule these games, and then say Ucf is wrong seems like no real research or consideration was done when making this article. I’m unimpressed.

      • Bryan J Smith

        May 24, 2019 at 1:04 pm

        Yep, as Gabe shun pointed out, UCF revenue from football is over $20M, nearly $3M per home game. That’s over 50% of UCF’s non-athletic fee revenue — $42-43M, out of $62M total — and that’s under the old TV deal. It’s nearly $50M with the new deal.

        That’s still 4x more than the new ESPN media deal per game (home+away), and over 10x more than the prior deal. If UCF could demand equivalent money to its actual TV ratings this entire decade (even the down years) going back to ’10 …

        UCF wouldn’t even need athletic fees, it would have revenue in excess of its expenditures.

        USF loses money on home games, and is willing to accept only $350K/away game (Florida), $500K/away game (Alabama) and $600K/away game (Louisville), while Alabama and Florida pay $800K-1.2M for a FCS team!

        Yes, USF is accepting 1/3 to 1/2 the money that SEC teams pay FCS teams. That’s why they are eager to sign with USF.

  • KNIGHTWAY1

    May 24, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Yawn. UCF will be 12-1 or 13-0 this year and Top 10 and Charlie Strong will be getting ready to hand the reigns over to Kerwin Bell.

    I’ve never seen a more uneducated article than the one above. For an investigative reporter, you’re very bad.

  • Bill

    May 24, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Wait the local Tampa sports guy says USF is right and UCF is wrong. Wow earth shattering journalism

    • Bryan J Smith

      May 24, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Actually, there’s not a lot of pro-USF bias over in Tampa.

      There is more Gator-bias, by far. USF is not #1 in the Tampa market, and the sports media tends to be dominated by ‘older’ schools.

      Orlando used to be that before 2009. And after 2013, UCF finally became #1 team most people listed as their #1 … not just #2 … in greater central Florida. That’s also when UCF overtook Miami as the state’s #3 team, as even Miami’s own AA blog admitted by 2015.

      And UCF solidified greatly in central Florida, after 2017.

      I fully expect most sports media outside of central Florida, where UCF isn’t the top team people list as their #1, to do this. And that’s fine.

      Just understand it’s *not* USF fans saying this, but Gator fans by a wide margin, followed by Seminole and the sub-10% of Miami fans left in Florida. 😉

      • Craig Schweitzer

        May 30, 2019 at 10:32 am

        Bryan J Smith, so you’re saying Gators fans are saying USF is smart for taking a 2-1 series with them and UCF is stupid for not accepting a bum deal? Okay, still makes sense.

Comments are closed.


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