The first step to fixing a problem is admitting the problem exists.
UCF has admitted it has a problem. Specifically, a football scheduling problem. Now the healing can begin. But how did it come to this?
Two words: Danny White
Don’t get me wrong. Danny White did an amazing job at UCF in many facets of what an athletic director is supposed to do. He had an excellent track record of hiring coaches, raised money for capital projects, improved gameday revenue with the premium seating expansion at the Bounce House, and helped strengthen the UCF fan base.
But there was one glaring area that is a major portion of an athletic director’s job description where he messed up: football scheduling.
In Danny We Trusted
“In Danny We Trust.” was a common cliche used by Knights fans online. Unfortunately, those are some famous last words. Of course, I can say this using the power of hindsight, but White’s scheduling issues were no secret and my position has never changed on it.
Riding the wave of the CFP controversy and an NCAA-recognized national championship in 2017, White came out and said that UCF is not going to take any two-for-one deals with power conference teams. This didn’t sit well with P5 athletic directors. In fact, a public squabble with University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin made the situation worse. White made a bad gamble and doubled down on it. He couldn’t afford to fold.
On the flip side, it also painted a scarlet letter on UCF in the eyes of other P5 institutions. After White’s public declaration and the subsequent fiasco, how could one of the larger P5 institutions White wanted to target cross the line and agree to White’s demands? They couldn’t, and as a result, the Knights’ schedule options went stale while other schools around the county continued to agree to future series or one-off games.
In the court of public opinion outside of the UCF fan base, White’s stance did not go well. White’s doubling down transformed UCF from America’s darling into a heel. In wrestling terms, he transformed UCF from lovable underdog Stevie Richards to Steven Richards from the Right to Censor. This is not a compliment. The Right to Censor was a terrible stable full of jobbers that nearly derailed one wrestler’s hall of fame career. UCF and White went full tilt.
White thought he was going to change college football by taking a strong position against uneven scheduling between the Power Five and Group of Five. In the end, he ended up for the most part standing alone. The rest of the G5 did not go along with him and the Knights ended up suffering for it. White later admitted that it was difficult to find schools willing to adhere to UCF’s demands.
Over the years, UCF has not had many successes scheduling football series. In the five seasons Danny White was athletic director, he inked home-and-home deals with just two Power Five schools. That’s it.
In August 2016, UCF announced a home and home with North Carolina. The two were supposed to play in 2018 and 2020. For reasons out of either school’s control, neither game happened. The two schools added another series in February 2018. In January 2018, UCF inked a home and home with Louisville. The Knights already had a series scheduled with Georgia Tech. The 2017 game was canceled as a result of Hurricane Irma and ultimately rescheduled for 2022. UCF also has a home and home series with non-P5 BYU and Boise State.
In fairness, the UNC series was first signed after the Tar Heels went 11-3. Louisville was coming off an 8-5 season.
In January, Danny White accepted the athletic director position at the University of Tennessee and UCF responded by hiring Terry Mohajir from Arkansas State.
Mohajir very quickly acknowledged the scheduling mess he inherited. In February, he was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel, “To be the best, you have to play the best and you have to beat the best,” Mohajir said. “Sometimes you have to play people on their terms if you want an opportunity for that.” Even American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, who is pushing for a Power 6 narrative, felt White was standing alone. “Most of the membership, if not all of them except Danny at this point, is open for doing two-for-ones,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told the Orlando Sentinel in 2019. “We’ve done some of them and some of them have been high-profile.”
Mohajir made sure the schedule was a top priority and was in dire shape. In March, he was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel, “We’re in a really tough situation right now because we don’t have a lot of games. I’ve prided myself in being pretty strategic in our scheduling, but it’s going to be challenging to really strategically set up our schedule based on philosophies because we just don’t have games. We’ve got to go get games. Some of the teams that we probably wouldn’t have played or thought about playing, we’re going to have to play. That’s no knock on anyone, but we have a different philosophy in how we schedule and we’re just behind the eight ball. We’ve got to jump on it. We’re still trying to get games for next year. I was scheduling games for 2030-31 at my last place.”
This is the opposite of Danny White’s scheduling philosophy.
Mohajir warned fans that in the short term, the schedule might not be as great as he would like it to be. This is because most schools UCF would like to play have their schedule for the next few years either fully done or close to it while the Knights are nowhere close to that.
Let's compare a bit.
It was just announced that a new home and home series is to happen with Florida Atlantic. The first game in 2022 to be in Boca Raton and the game in Orlando to take place in 2025. This completes UCF’s 2022 schedule. It just happens that if everything stays as-is, UCF won’t leave the state until conference play starts. This also brings the number of openings in 2025 down to two.
#UCF officially announces #FAU to the schedule for '22 and '25. The 2022 non-conference schedule now looks like this:— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) May 25, 2021
9/1 at FIU
9/10 vs. Louisville
9/17 at FAU
9/24 vs. Georgia Tech
With two dates in South Florida, the Knights won't leave the state until conference play starts. https://t.co/L8yXo5fDHF
From 2023-2029, UCF has zero full seasons. They have two openings in 2023 and 2024, two in 2025 and 2027, and all four slots open in 2026, 2028, and 2029. That’s very bad.
Now let’s compare UCF to a peer in Boise State, a school UCF will meet on the field this fall.
Boise State has a full schedule in 2022, 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2028 with one opening in 2024, 2026, and 2029. Sure it’s important to get some P5s into the schedule, but if I’m an AD, I’d gladly take a full schedule with no P5s versus an 11 game schedule with a P5.
Now, I have to disclose some things about these two schools. Boise State has the benefit of the PAC-12, who is far more schedule friendly than the SEC. Boise State has been able to have a home and home series with a number of PAC-12 schools with some on more than one occasion. UCF has only been able to do the same with two SEC schools and neither more than once.
One of the many criticisms UCF has faced when being compared to Boise State was in regards to the number of Power Five schools played. As it turns out, this isn’t true. What separates UCF and Boise State in this regard is that Boise State won more of their P5 match-ups.
Borrowing from James Reid off Twitter:
The picture is a little outdated since we’ve had a 2020 season, and you need to remove a few teams (notably Rutgers and Louisville from 2013 since they were in the same conference as UCF during that season, along with canceled games that never happened). I also only counted games that a school has control of, which are during the regular season.
But UCF has played more P5 non-conference games than Boise State since 2000. The big difference between the two is the win/loss record in those games. I might have missed or double-counted a game here or there, but the records are something like UCF going 9-38 while Boise State went 12-15. UCF has played many games against power conference teams and a lot of them were on the road as a result of two-for-one and on-off contracts.
The moral of the story is that UCF playing inequitable schedules isn’t a new concept, nor is it one that can’t be feasible if handled properly. UCF wants two P5 schools every year and they could do it if they play their cards right. This requires UCF to budget based on a six-game home season, which is very reasonable.
Trying to schedule a seven-game home season, which White wanted, is not sustainable for a non-P5 school. You budget based on six and on occasion, you could end up with seven. You use a home game against an FCS opponent to guarantee one and make sure one of your other non-conference games are at home based on your scheduling negotiations. The moment Mohajir agrees to his first two-for-one, it will improve UCF’s ability to negotiate with opposing schools, since it will signify that this is a new administration. With the improved goodwill that will be generated by that first agreement, UCF should be able to mix two-for-one with larger P5 schools while mixing in some home-and-home series with lesser P5s.
Be patient, be open-minded, and be supportive, and UCF, behind Terry Mohajir, can climb out of the scheduling hole Danny White put them in.