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UCF’s Big 12 Questions: What’s on UCF’s Big 12 Christmas List?

We answer the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in 2023-24 and beyond

Photo: Derek Warden

The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next 12 days, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.

Our next question focuses on the team that had the most success in The American:

2. What’s on your long-term Christmas List for UCF’s increased conference revenue in the Big 12?

Andrew: I’ve said it from Day One and I’ll keep saying it, but the school needs to pay their staff better and hire more people. The SIDs, support staff, sport-specific medical staff, and others need to be brought in and paid well enough to not want to leave. Many good and talented people have come and gone and might have been able to be retained if there were more resources to do so.

Jeff: [Don’t say new sound system, don’t say new sound system, don’t say new sound system]

There are a lot of things that we all want to get done, but I think we need to start dropping down payments on the boring things that need to get done.

Andrew is right: First, UCF needs to step up its investment in people — communications, marketing, athletic training — and really make this the kind of place where good people come and don’t leave.

Second, I’d like to see investment in Basketball. We’ve waxed poetic about how under-invested that sport is compared to the AAC, let alone the Big 12. That needs to be fixed.

Third — Olympic Park. Track, Softball, Tennis. Plus the Soccer-only stadium. Let’s do it.

Finally — and this is the big one — I think it’s time we made a long-term progressive investment in upgrading FBC Mortgage Stadium, and I don’t just mean a new sound system (Dag gummit, I said it). I mean doing what FSU did to the Doak.

Everyone forgets this but Doak Campbell Stadium is also steel construction. However, FSU has added to it and reinforced it over the years to make it what it is today.

Here it is in 1982:

Doak Campbell Stadium in 1982

Now look at it in 2017:

Doak Campbell Stadium, 2017
Doak Campbell Stadium, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

We’re somewhere between those extremes, but I’m thinking a year-over-year, section-by-section refit of the entire stadium may be in order. I know, maybe it won’t bounce as much. But it’s our crown jewel, and it should last long beyond when we are all gone.

Bryson: UCF Athletics is quite likely going to be coming into a large amount of money over the next several years.

Even now, with a partial Big 12 media share ($18 million for 2023-24 and $19 million in 2024-25), the Knights are making more than double what they received from The American in media rights alone. Then, that share will become a full one, worth $50 million, in 2025. That very same year marks the first year of a nine-year period in which, should Orange County bring in excess Tourist Development Tax revenues, UCF will receive up to $10 million of those excess dollars.

According to UCF’s presentation to the Board of County Commissioners, $17 million in private funding has already been raised for a soccer-only stadium, John Euliano Park upgrades, and the new-look Football Campus and $12 million of private funding went into the Nicholson Fieldhouse, Addition Arena and The Venue upgrades we are seeing right now.

So, if this is what UCF is already doing now, what should be on the top of their list once the money really starts rolling in?

I hate beating a dead horse, but Drew nailed Priority #1 on the head: Raise salaries for every single Athletics support staff position. SIDs, athletic trainers, support staff, and many more that I can’t think of. Make UCF not just a destination for athletes, but a destination for college athletics professionals too.

Next, the teams themselves. Each team has its own needs that need to be met (Under Construction Forever, baby!), and ideally, every single one of them should be addressed immediately with this large influx of cash on the way, but if there needs to be a priority list, this is how I would do it:

  1. Upgrade The Plex: Softball has become THE UCF spring sport over the past couple of years under HC Cindy Ball-Malone. They’ve put their work in, and it’s time for the administration to reward them for it.
  2. Increase the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Budgets (A Lot): UCF was already one of the lower men’s basketball budgets in The American, but now it has to catch up with the rest of the Big 12. They don’t have to be the highest budgets (we’re not Kansas), but both probably should be about the middle of the road, which would still be about a 70% ($3 million) increase from 2022’s budget for the men alone. However, if both programs want to be competitive in one of the top basketball conferences, UCF needs to give them the support they’ll need to do so.
  3. Make FBC Mortgage Stadium Last: Football brings in the big bucks and the program should be able to do even more of that with the increased premium seating options slated to be added to the new west tower. Everything Jeff says applies here too.
  4. Soccer-Only Stadium/Track and Field-Only Stadium: The Track and Field and soccer teams have shared a home since the Soccer and Track Complex was built in 1991. However, just like siblings entering adolescence, it’s time to get each of them their own space.
  5. Tennis Training Center: The USTA National Campus is an amazing tennis facility to watch UCF Men’s and Women’s Tennis, making the half-hour drive from campus to Lake Nona to watch matches well worth it. However, these student-athletes should not have to rely on the Recreation and Wellness Center’s tennis courts to get their practice in.

Finally, once all the current team’s immediate needs are addressed (which easily could take a while on its own), perhaps some money will be available for UCF to add a new sport. There are plenty of options to choose from, though Men’s Track and Men’s and Women’s Wrestling are my Top 3. However, these are pie-in-the-sky ideas, so far down the priority list that even reaching them in the first place would be a huge testament to how important UCF’s move to the Big 12 was.

For decades, UCF has had to do more with less. Now, it’s time to see what UCF can do when it has the funds to match its ambitions.

Derek: Now that UCFAA has a (not-quite-guaranteed) $90 million coming over the next decade from the TDT*, let’s put shovels in the ground and replace that west side FBC Mortgage stadium tower. The knock against the Bounce House has always been the “erector-set” aesthetic, but in reality, the tower is an eyesore to an otherwise function-over-form design. The Mission XII rendering for the new tower is a nice start, and if that is close to the final form, I think we can easily live with it.

Another, and this is my bold prediction of the year, is that Johnny Dawkins retires after this season and UCF goes hard after Dusty May of FAU. Okay, that may not be a bold prediction, but what is is that UCF will actually be able to get him here with the promise of facility improvements (already underway) and more Kingdom NIL support.

Start a men’s lacrosse program. (this is a Christmas list, dammit! I can put what I want.)

Finally, I would like to see the following facility upgrades for our non-revenue sports:

  • Men’s & Women’s Soccer: a stand-alone facility that doesn’t share space with Track & Field.
  • Softball: more seating along the baselines and behind the outfield. And any shade would be great! The expectation should be a facility where the NCAA would want to host Super Regionals year after year.
  • Track & Field: think ‘Oregon of the East’.

The last item on my list (I know I already said “Finally” in the previous paragraph, but this is my Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ending), as Andrew said, pay your staff more competitively, especially those who have helped raise UCF’s profile over the last decade-plus.

(*for those who think TDT funds shouldn’t be spent on sports/entertainment/etc., change the law. Don’t be upset that UCFAA is pursuing all possible avenues to become more competitive. UCFAA didn’t write the law nor pass it. But, complaining about ‘taxes should go to blah blah blah instead’ just makes you look ignorant and short-sighted. To quote the Michael Jordan meme: “Stop it. Get some help”.)

Nick: FIX THE FREAKING STADUM WIFI! I’m sick of not being able to communicate with people when I’m at football games.

Joking aside though, my wish list is three simple things:

  1. Seriously, give us better internet connection.
  2. I wish that we improve the salaries of those in the athletic department — and not just for coaches so we don’t lose them, but for people like SIDs, like Drew said. I also wish that we use the revenue increase to help attract big recruits.
  3. And finally, I hope to see some stadium upgrades, and no, not just for football, but for some of the other sports. For how they’ve done in the past few years, the softball stadium deserves some major upgrades, and that includes adding more seating.