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 is on the diamond:
8. Can Rich Wallace return UCF Baseball to its glory days?
Jeff: Yes. As I mentioned previously, it won’t be for lack of support from the alumni and donors. They’re fully committed to him and he’s fully committed to them.
The Big 12 is a top-three league in the NCAA along with the ACC and SEC, so competition-wise, this is a leap from The American, which hovered around 6th or 7th after the loss of UConn. So then it comes down to talent.
I think one underrated aspect here is Wallace will benefit from the changes in the Minor Leagues. With the new Professional Baseball Agreement in 2021, 43 Minor League Baseball teams were either disaffiliated or folded, and the MLB Draft was shrunk to 20 rounds. With fewer pro jobs to go around, that means more talented players are going to stick around in college than go pro, and more high schoolers might take a shot at developing in college while getting their degree instead of playing for peanuts in God Knows Where. So that could mean a larger talent pool for Wallace to choose from.
We’re still ironing out the after-effects from this on the college game, but as football has illustrated, UCF offers a lot of things that college kids like. If Wallace is as good a recruiter here as he was at FSU and Notre Dame, then the program could indeed be heading for a Renaissance.
Eric: If anyone can, perhaps it is someone who was part of UCF Baseball’s peak in the early 2000s like Rich Wallace was as a player. That said, UCF Baseball has only been to three NCAA Tournaments since 2005 (2011, 2012, and 2017).
It will not get easier in The Big 12, which is a top-three Baseball conference. It will not be easy to return to the glory days for UCF, but I always believed that UCF could be a Baseball school — perhaps more so than Basketball. Softball has shown how to build a huge following in recent years under Cindy Ball-Malone. Perhaps Wallace can do the same for Baseball.
Bryson: The good news for Rich Wallace is that this UCF Baseball program already has aspects to it that worked, particularly on offense. That makes his job a lot easier. Just address the issues that Greg Lovelady was unable to: defense and pitching.
Excluding the shortened 2020 season, UCF has not had less than 60 errors in a season since 2011. According to his bio, Wallace oversaw defensive alignments during his time at Notre Dame and helped the Irish finish in the Top 15 in the nation in fielding percentage in 2021 and 2022. As for the pitchers, not only has Wallace brought in Drew Thomas, the pitching coach for Coastal Carolina’s 2016 College World Series Champion team, but also former UCF pitcher Joe Sheridan as Director of Player Development.
Wallace also knows what it takes to make it to Omaha, having been there as an assistant coach with Notre Dame in 2022. We’ll see how his future recruiting classes pan out, but at least in the short term, Wallace has the puzzle pieces to get the Knights back to the level they were when he was a player.
Andrew: The Knights baseball team has largely been stuck in neutral since Jay Bergman left the program. When you look back during his tenure, the Knights were really good during the regular season, but always shrunk in the postseason. Yes, they have gone to three regionals since Bergman’s final season in 2008, but that’s not very good. Terry Rooney was never able to put a consistent product on the field and Greg Lovelady couldn’t keep the players healthy. Lovelady’s squad did well in his first season, but bowed out of the NCAA Tournament pretty quickly and never came back.
It’s time to hit the reset button again with Rich Wallace. If he can lead the team to a super-regional appearance, he will do what no UCF baseball coach has done. With improved resources, there is no reason to believe this can’t be done with Wallace in the dugout.