At the conclusion of the perfect season by the University of Central Florida, in the heat of the debate over their qualifications to the college football playoff, State Representative Bobby Olszewski wrote a letter to the Big 12 conference requesting they consider adding UCF as well as the University of South Florida.
“I think because of the business analytics of college football, it would be extremely logical for the Big 12 to look at who can give them the most television revenue,” Olszewski had written in a letter to Big 12 leadership. “And getting USF and UCF with the media markets they represent in Florida would be a wonderful fit.”
In response, league Commissioner Bowlsby indicated the conference had no plans to expand, writing, “I do not foresee a scenario in which expansion would again become an active agenda item for our Board of Directors in the near future.”
The Big 12 conference’s 10-team format was described as resulting from a “very thorough and thoughtful process of Board considerations centered on the long-term strength and stability of the Big 12.”
The University of Central Florida, traditionally an afterthought in the world of collegiate athletics, has emerged as a growing force and one of Florida’s most successful football programs in recent years, winning five conference championships, two major bowls, producing two Heisman Trophy candidates, and graduating seven players who played in the NFL’s Pro Bowl. This season’s collapse of Florida State opened the door for UCF and the University of Miami to carry the torch for the Sunshine State.
Longtime NFL all pro quarterback Daunte Culpepper graduated from UCF in 1999 before being drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings. Despite his success, the Knights had largely stayed off the national stage until quarterback Blake Bortles led the team to a surprise BCS victory over Baylor. The program collapsed momentarily, going winless for a season until coach Scott Frost rebuilt the program, cumulating in its significant Peach Bowl win, and starting a national conversation among proponents of expanding the college football playoff format to give non-power conference teams an opportunity to play for the national championship.
Despite the success of the University of Central Florida, which included an undefeated season and victory over SEC powerhouse Auburn in the Peach Bowl, critics railed against the university’s apparently weak schedule. Not playing in a major conference seems to have prevented Florida’s largest university from the opportunity to compete on college football’s largest stage.
The path forward is unclear, however, given the roadblocks to join a major conference. Although the nation’s lone undefeated program was recently recognized at the NFL’s Pro Bowl, and proclaimed to be national champions by Florida Governor Rick Scott, obtaining any real shot to compete in the college football playoff seems unlikely for a school which has been all but locked out of any attempt to compete with the types of schools they were penalized for not playing.