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How Moving to the Big 12 Affects UCF’s Olympic Sports

UCF steps up in competition, but not as much as you think in some sports

UCF Volleyball (Photo: Derek Warden) Photo: Derek Warden

It’s pretty obvious how UCF’s reported move to the Big 12 will help its football and basketball programs. But what about the other sports? Which UCF Knights programs will benefit from the move? Who will see their schedules get significantly tougher? And what will be the storylines for those programs when that move happens?

We break that down here:

Women’s Basketball

UCF Women’s Basketball Photo: Derek Warden

2021 Conference RPI Rankings: Big 12 3rd, American 9th

Like the men, UCF Women’s Hoops will be making a major step up in competition going from The American, which has not had more than two teams in the NCAA Tournament, to a conference that consistently gets four or five teams in, led by annual national title contender Baylor. Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia all made the Tournament in 2021, and that does not including BYU, who has also been a consistent tournament team.

Despite losing Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 should remain the third-strongest conference in Women’s Hoops. One big question will be what happens with the War on I-4 rivalry, as the UCF/USF rivalry has gone to another level since the arrival of Coach Abe.

Baseball

John Montes Baseball Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

2021 Conference RPI Rankings: Big 12 2nd, American 5th

Each time UCF has moved conferences, they upgrade in baseball. It’s no different here.

The American is consistently a top-five league in college baseball, but the Big 12 has been no worse than the third-rated conference by RPI and has been second each of the last two full seasons.

The loss of Texas hurts the league, but the remaining seven members remain a strong group, led by Texas Tech and TCU, who have been to the College World Series recently, along with traditional power Oklahoma State. Baylor and West Virginia also made the NCAA Tournament in 2019.

The Big 12 will be an 11-team league, as Iowa State does not sponsor baseball.

One negative from the move is UCF will no longer will play their conference tournament in Clearwater, as Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers, will host the Big 12 Tournament from 2022-2024.

Softball

Karissa Ornelas Softball Florida Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

2021 Conference RPI Rankings: Big 12 3rd, American 5th

The Big 12 will be an eight-team league in softball, as Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia and Cincinnati do not play softball. Of the eight teams, only Kansas has not made an NCAA Tournament regional final since 2018.

The league has more depth than The American. For example, Kansas, who finished last in the Big 12 last season, was still on the bubble for the tournament for most of the season.

The loss of Oklahoma and Texas hurts the league significantly, but the additions of UCF, Houston, and BYU should keep the league in a battle with the ACC for third-strongest conference in Softball.

One negative for UCF is what happens with the rivalry series with South Florida. But Oklahoma State has been to the Women’s College World Series nine times, including the last two in 2019 and 2021, while Baylor also has made the WCWS four times, with most recent in 2017.

The Big 12 Tournament has been held in Oklahoma City recently. It will be interesting if that remains the case, or if they move it to somewhere in Texas, or rotate it between campus sites by the time UCF arrives.

Volleyball

UCF Knights Volleyball Derek Warden

2021 Conference RPI Rankings: Big 12 3rd, American 6th

Volleyball makes a major step up in competition as the Big 12 has been a 3-4 bid league and is consistently the third-strongest conference in volleyball behind the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State have been annual contenders, consistently making the NCAA Tournament, and should continue to do so going forward.

The league will take a major hit in losing annual national title contender and current AVCA Coaches’ Poll #1 Texas, but it will still be strong with Baylor and Iowa State at the top, as well as BYU, which has been a consistent top-25 program in volleyball as well. Cincinnati should also provide a welcome addition to the league given their recent success.

Women’s Soccer

UCF's Women's Soccer Team celebrates winning the 2017 American Athletic Conference Regular Season Championship. (Photo: UCF Athletics)
UCF’s Women’s Soccer Team celebrates winning the 2017 American Athletic Conference Regular Season Championship. (Photo: UCF Athletics)
Photo courtesy UCF Athletics

2019 Conference RPI Rankings: Big 12 4th, AAC 9th

UCF’s level of competition will go up big time in Women’s Soccer. The middle and bottom teams of Big 12 are what separate that league from the AAC.

In 2019, the Big 12 had five teams in the NCAA Tournament, and three in 2021’s lessened field. They are led by top-10 West Virginia and TCU, along with programs like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, who were in NCAA Tournament in 2019.

One negative is it likely marks the end of UCF’s match-ups with their two biggest rivals in Women’s Soccer: Memphis, with whom UCF has had many memorable matchups going back to C-USA, and South Florida, which has also won AAC championships at UCF’s expense.

There is one huge wildcard left for UCF to sort out:

Men’s Soccer

Photo: Derek Warden

The Big 12 does not sponsor men’s soccer. West Virginia is the only Big 12 school that sponsors it, and the Mountaineers are leaving the MAC to join Conference USA.

UCF Vice President and Athletic Director Terry Mohajir made it clear in his presentation a couple of weeks ago to the UCF Board of Trustees that he envisions UCF being a national title contender in both Men’s and Women’s Soccer, so the university’s commitment to the beautiful game is iron-clad.

Currently, all of Florida’s Division I Men’s Soccer programs are in either the AAC (UCF, USF), C-USA (FAU, FIU) or A-Sun (FGCU, Jacksonville, Stetson, UNF). Neither Florida, Florida State nor Miami sponsor Men’s Soccer.

The American currently has only six schools that compete in Men’s Soccer, with Cincinnati having scuttled their program last year and UConn leaving for the Big East. We could see a situation where the Knights remain in The American, which is quite strong in Men’s Soccer with SMU. In 2019, The American was 4th in the nation in Conference RPI, according to RPI Update.

If that is not palatable to the AAC, it’s also possible the Knights could find another home, such as Conference USA, which already has non-Conference-USA-level programs in it, like Kentucky and South Carolina, and has Florida schools in FAU and FIU (who could leave for The American), as well as the defending national champions in Marshall.

Rowing

Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

#WEWANTBAMA!

Yes, UCF and Alabama are going to finally play on the field ... er, lake.

The SEC does not sponsor rowing, which brings up many interesting questions; most important of which is, do the reigning national champions, Texas, get to stay?

Oklahoma is in same boat (no pun intended). They are led by head coach Leanne Crain, who was UCF’s head coach, and led the Knights to their first NCAA Championship appearance in 2007. Current UCF head coach Becky Cramer was on Crain’s staff and took over the program in 2008. Now, possibly, we could have Cramer and Crain in the same conference.

Kansas, Kansas State, and West Virginia also compete in rowing in the Big 12, along with Danny White’s Tennessee Volunteers.

Tennis

Men’s Tennis Trey Hilderbrand Photo Courtesy UCF Athletics

UCF’s move to the Big 12 means it’s a return for UCF Director of Tennis John Roddick. Roddick was the head Coach at Oklahoma for seven seasons, leading them to three National runner-up finishes and the school’s first Big 12 title in 2012.

In 2021, Roddick returned to Norman as UCF knocked off Oklahoma. He won’t have to worry about facing Texas or Oklahoma by the time UCF gets there more than likely, but the Knights will have to deal with Baylor and TCU, who are top programs in men’s tennis.

In Women’s Tennis, UCF will have to compete with Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, who all made the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and have been at the top of Big 12 Tennis, along with national power Texas, who departs for the SEC.

Golf

UCF Head Women's Golf Coach Emily Marron with golfer Ashley Holder at the 2017 American Athletic Conference Championship (Photo: UCF Athletics)
UCF Head Women’s Golf Coach Emily Marron with golfer Ashley Holder at the 2017 American Athletic Conference Championship
Photo: UCF Athletics

UCF Women’s Golf will have to deal with Oklahoma State, who is coming off a national runner-up finish and are perennial Big 12 favorites, having won the conference title ten times. Texas Tech and Baylor also are among the top programs in the Big 12 as well as nationally.

UCF Men’s Golf will be in the same conference with power programs Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and TCU. Oklahoma State is a perennial national title contender.

Track & Field/Cross Country

UCF Track and FIeld Photo: UCF Athletics

UCF Track and Field head coach Dana Boone returns to the Big 12, as she was an associate head coach at Texas Tech before coming to UCF.

The Big 12 takes a major hit losing Texas and Oklahoma, who are power programs in Track. Iowa State has strong programs in Outdoor Track and Cross Country, where they have won eight Big 12 titles. Oklahoma State has won ten Cross Country championships, while Texas Tech is a top program in the indoor season.

But the Biggest boost to the Big 12 will come from Houston, where former U.S.A. Olympic Team legend Leroy Burrell has led a resurgence at his alma mater, dominating the American and gaining traction at the national level.