More than 100 members of the UCF Knights Watch independent supporters’ group were scheduled to bus up to Jacksonville to see ESPN’s College GameDay at the Georgia-Florida game and make UCF’s presence felt on national TV.
But after receiving threats from Florida fans on Twitter and other social media, the group elected to cancel their trip and refund all money collected.
They posted some of those threats on their Twitter account, @UCFKnightsWatch, after releasing a statement following the cancellation:
These are just some of the tweets. There were people in our groups finding out where we were going to be while others were planning on doing things on our way back to the buses. We had kids and some older folks in our group. We couldn't risk them getting hit with a glass bottle. pic.twitter.com/J5jqsVM5KJ— UCF Knights Watch (@UCFKnightsWatch) October 25, 2018
Chuck Tolman, an historian, UCF graduate, and one of the leaders of the group (he runs the Twitter account, among other things), said they initially planned to leave from Chad Barr’s office in Altamonte Springs at 11 p.m. on Friday night, arrive in time to make signs and find a good spot for the show, and then leave once GameDay had wrapped broadcasting for the day.
Barr, an Orlando-area attorney, is also part of the group’s leadership, and has been instrumental in its expansion. He’s the guy who rented an airplane to fly a banner proclaiming UCF’s national title from last year over the Alabama-Louisville game at Camping World Stadium earlier this season.
They sent out information about the trip via their Twitter account, which got picked up by a few SEC blogs. That’s when all hell broke loose.
“I was away from my phone for like 30 minutes and I come back to like 80 notifications,” Tolman said. “And a lot of them were just taunting but then I started seeing people telling us we were going to get beaten up and some people threatening us. And then on our Facebook pages for the event we were getting people who are threatening us and others who were basically telling us it’s not a good idea to come.” So he and Barr decided to pull the plug.
Tolman said he and others in the group reported the threats to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
SEC, it just means more.... Like causing bodily harm to a group of fans that support a team that should “stay at the kids table” more— Mac Loudermilk (@macmilk15) October 25, 2018
The Knights Watch started initially as an independent supporter’s group for UCF Soccer, modeled after those for Orlando City Soccer Club. But it has branched out into support for other UCF Knights programs as well.
They have received no official support or advice from UCF Athletics, aside from helping to “make a few signs,” according to Tolman.
He said the group acted out of an abundance of caution for all members. “I know a lot of these people are keyboard warriors but just the overall vibe we were getting is that it would be hostile because now they were waiting for us,” he said.
“As an Orlando City supporter I’ve been to many away days and sometimes fights and things break out but we are all in our twenties and thirties,” he said.
“We didn’t have any children with us at that time though. That’s what really gave me pause...And when Florida and Georgia fans were telling us that it didn’t matter and we could not reason with them then we decided to call it off.”
So far there has been no official statement from ESPN or the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office about the threats.
I get a lot of you folks don’t like UCF (snowflakes), but this is disgusting. Way to ruin innocent fun over a football game. https://t.co/tDzXjY5vVe— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) October 25, 2018
“We were mostly going down there to demand respect. At least keep it from being a one way conversation where they just talk down to us from TV,“ Tolman said.
Now Tolman and the group has to refund about $3,500 worth of payments and donations. Fortunately, they cancelled before having to put a deposit down on the buses.
“I’m very sad,” he said. “More than anything because I was excited to go. I’ve watched GameDay for like 20 years and I’ve always wanted to be there to see it all kind of happen and to be there with a reason.”
A lot of people think we are being chicken or tucking tail by not going to Jacksonville. We aren't. We would defend ourselves if needed. We don't need to get people hurt because some SEC fans can't handle seeing a UCF logo. You aren't tough for wanting to pepper spay children...— UCF Knights Watch (@UCFKnightsWatch) October 26, 2018
Not all is lost though. Tolman said the group, which was at about 500 strong, has seen some 200 more members join in just the past day.
Some UCF fans still do plan to make the trip for Saturday morning’s telecast, threats be damned.
“We wish them luck and safety,” Tolman said.
He also still holds out hope that ESPN will bring College GameDay to UCF at some point this season.
“And if they do, any Gator fans or Bulldog fans coming will be treated with respect and courtesy,” he said.