The American Athletic Conference published its fall sports schedule plan about 30 minutes before UCF Knights Athletics Director Danny White stepped to the podium for a press conference Wednesday afternoon
The conference’s plan in regards to football — eight conference games and as many as four non-conference games per team — didn’t contain any surprises. White comments, however, had a few.
Right off the top, White said he was “very optimistic” that the UCF-Georgia Tech game would be played in Atlanta. It is scheduled for Sept. 18.
“Very optimistic about the Georgia Tech game in particular,” White said. “I think the way that our fans travel, even in a lower-capacity situation, which we’re all probably looking at, we’re an attractive home game for them. I know our coaches, our student-athletes and our fans are really excited about that.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s schedule plan, which was released last week, calls for each of its 15 football programs to play just one non-conference game in their home state. The UCF-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta would satisfy that requirement, but as of Wednesday, White was still waiting for the ACC to cement each team’s 2020 slate.
“I expect that we’ll learn something pretty quick as they finalize their schedule,” White said.
White also didn’t rule out the Knights taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels, even though that game as scheduled — in Orlando on Sept. 4 — would violate the ACC’s in-state edict with non-conference opponents.
White was firm: If that game is played, it will take place in the Bounce House, not North Carolina.
“We’re not at a position to reduce our number of home games,” he said.
That number is seven. Or at least, that’s what White wants it to be. He is committed to it.
“We made a commitment to our fan base several years ago that we would try to have seven home games,” he said. “That’s also a big part of our student-athlete experience, to have seven home games.”
If you subtract that UNC game, which remains on UCF’s official online schedule despite the very long odds of it actually happening, the Knights currently have five home games:
Sept. 12 vs. Florida International
Oct. 3 vs. Tulsa
Oct. 24 vs. Tulane
Nov. 14 vs. Temple
Nov. 21 vs. Cincinnati
One option for the Knights is something they actually erased off their schedule last month: Hosting Florida A&M as originally scheduled on Nov. 7. The Rattlers’ season was considered lost once the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference suspended its fall-sport season on July 16. But FAMU may play as an independent this season, opening the door for that game to go on as planned. And White thinks it will.
“We’re still optimistic that we can play that (FAMU) game as scheduled,” he said.
White said it has been “challenging” to try to piece together a schedule with so many variables out of his control. But, he added, “I’m grateful that we’re finally at a place where we can start to make decisions and figure this thing out. I think that we’ll do that very quickly.”
One requirement for any team looking to jump onto UCF’s schedule: “We’re not going to play anybody that doesn’t meet our testing protocol,” White said.
The greatest challenge this season will be finding a way to get through it without being derailed by the global pandemic that is still holding strong within America and especially in Florida. White’s answer on how comfortable he feels that the season will be completed as scheduled has flip-flopped in recent months. Right now, he is just hopeful that conditions will be good enough for UCF to not only play but host some amount of fans during football games this season. White said in May that home games without fans would create a “$30 milion problem” for the university.
No matter what happens in the fall, White said Wednesday that the financial hit to UCF will be “significant.” But with his next breath, he acknowledged that money can’t be the driving force behind how UCF Athletics proceeds in the weeks and months ahead.
“It has to be about the student-athletes,” he said. “... We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that it’s safe for them to compete this fall.”
Football, soccer and volleyball student-athletes are currently on campus, and White said they have done a good job of following the guidelines set forth to make sure the chances of anyone contracting or spreading COVID-19 are low.
“We have a very successful bubble right now within UCF, certainly with our student-athletes,” he said. “It’s going to be more challenging when the rest of the students come back. But I have confidence in our kids with how mature they’ve been and how serious they’ve taken this and how important their competitive season is to them. I think they are doing everything they can to protect it.”
If any student-athlete doesn’t feel comfortable or safe enough to compete in their respective sport this fall, White said they can choose to not play and the university will still uphold their scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year.
“We’re not forcing any student-athlete to do something they are uncomfortable doing. That’s the last we want to do,” White added. “We’re working hard to try to support them because the vast majority, if not all of them, they want to play.”
One athlete who is definitely trying to return to action is quarterback McKenzie Milton. He had a very positive appointment with his surgeon earlier this week and appears to be making leaps, figuratively and literally, in his long road to a full recovery from a devastating right knee injury. White wouldn’t say what the future holds for Milton as a football player, but he admitted that just seeing Milton “skipping” around UCF’s practice field this summer brought him great joy.
“Really excited for him, not only for his future football career but just the rest of his life,” White said of Milton. “The doctor was so pleased about how everything looks for him, how he has recovered. I think it’s an awful lot of good luck and blessings, but it’s also a testament to a young man that has worked his tail off and grinded. He deserved all the good news he’s getting.
“He’s a leader for our athletics department and for our whole university. He’s done a lot for UCF, loves UCF, and I know the feeling is mutual.”