Big East Comm -- oh, wait, excuse me, BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto finally made the worst kept secret in college sports official on Wednesday by accepting UCF, along with Conference USA cohorts Houston and SMU as all-sports members, bringing Boise State into the big-boys football club and adding San Diego State's football program in a move that screamed, "What the f$&k else was I supposed to do? The Mormons turned the other cheek!"
So there you go -- football played across four times zones in the same conference. On the surface, it seems kind of silly, and kind of sad -- the whole thing is predicated by money and Marinatto's acts of desperation to maintain a BCS automatically qualifying spot. Oh, by the way, that berth is safe through 2015.
The best suggestion for UCF fans is take the "It is what it is" mental approach to all this, then think of all the postives this will have for the Knights' football program -- and basketball program.
First, football. Being able to go into a recruit's living room and drop the terms "BCS conference" and "play for a national championship" means winning a few of the recruiting battles won in Florida when going up against Florida, Florida State, Miami and USF for much the same talent pool. Plus, the rivalry with USF is renewed. (Bus travel is far cheaper for a football program than air travel, anyway.)
The other thing I think of is of biggest benefit to the basketball program, which will be a competitive one in the BIG EAST after about two more recruiting classes -- if the coaches can talk a recruit into making a visit to Orlando. Yeah, that'll take a lot of arm-twisting to get a kid from up north or the midwest down here in, say, January, eh?
If you're a solid recruit for a traditional BIG EAST school and Donnie Jones can get you down here to see the campus, the new basketball arena, the Athletic Village and the other students wearing sandals and shorts to class (this means the ladies aren't all bundled up either, fellas), AND you're going to be playing the conference schedule, why would you go do that in the upper Midwest or upstate New York or in the Northeast in the dead of winter? The beach is just an hour away from the campus, and it never closes.
And if the Knights can be competitive in that conference, and make a decent showing in the end-of-year tournament, it means making the NCAA Tournament as no lower than an 11 seed without breaking a sweat. Beats those great runs in the Atlantic Sun and then starting down the barrel of a Georgetown in the Big Dance.
Oh yeah, and did I mention the extra $6 million a year this means to the athletic program?
UCF will be fine. It's easy to by snarky when it has no AD, the cloud of NCAA sanctions hanging around and a football team that lost seven of its last 10 games (six of them by essentially one play) and a head coach that everyone loves to hate. Better days are sooooo ahead. In fact, they may already be here. George O'Leary has hired Ted Roof away from Auburn to be the defensive coordinator.
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The Florida Citrus Sports Association dropped one hell of a Christmas present in Orlando area college football fans' laps this year. The Champs Sports Bowl and the Florida Citrus Bowl have great matchups this year, and the Champs game may even trump the traditional New Year's Day (Jan. 2 this year) game.
When they announced that Notre Dame would face Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29, the game quickly sold out. The Fighting Irish will finish the year in Florida after started it by losing at home, on national TV, to USF (meanwhile, the Bulls went from 4-0 to 5-7). FSU began the year ranked No. 5 in the country, but losses to Oklahoma and a still-unexplainable one to Wake Forest whacked them back to reality. The story on the field is about redemption, but the story in our community will be the post-Christmas ringing of cash registers.
Then Central Florida will welcome Steve Spurrier in 2012 when his South Carolina Gamecocks take on Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. If you remember, Spurrier used to say that, "You can't spell Citrus without UT," referring to the annual whuppins' his Gators put on Tennessee. Well, Coach, also looks like you can't spell Citrus without the USC, either.
Meanwhile, if you haven't adjusted to Nebraska in the Big 10 (it just doesn't seem -- natural), do it soon. A ticket will be hard to come by for this game, too, as Cornhusker Nation is renowned for its travel contingent -- they'd attend the Smirnoff Bowl in Kiev on a Wednesday at 4 a.m.
Even Santa knows that Orlando is a happenin' sports place this Christmas. I hear he's coming to put coal in Dwight Howard's stocking. More on that next week.