A new day has dawned for the Knights, as the University of Central Florida today accepted a much-anticipated all-sports invitation to join the BIG EAST Conference.

“This is a historic moment for the Knights, our UCF family and friends, and all of Central Florida,” said UCF President John C. Hitt. “Joining the BIG EAST is the next step on UCF’s path to national prominence, providing immediate opportunities for our student-athletes to compete on the largest national stage.”

“This opportunity is about more than just athletics. It is an opportunity built on the success of all who work and learn at our great university.”

To watch a video of President Hitt discussing UCF’s future in the BIG EAST, click here. To watch a video of Thursday morning’s BIG EAST news conference featuring President Hitt, Interim Director of Athletics Al Harms and coaches George O’Leary, Donnie Jones and Joi Williams, click here.

UCF will begin BIG EAST competition in 2013-14, taking on schools such as Notre Dame, Connecticut, Boise State, Georgetown, and Houston, while renewing a budding rivalry with the University of South Florida. UCF is home to more than 500 student-athletes competing in 16 intercollegiate sports.

Since the BIG EAST’s establishment in 1979, conference members have won 31 national championships in six sports, and 133 student-athletes have won individual NCAA national titles.

“Over the last 32 years, the BIG EAST Conference has constantly evolved along with landscape of college athletics,” said BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the BIG EAST family.”

UCF Athletics Growth

UCF’s athletics programs have grown in national prominence over the last several years. In 2010-11, its football, baseball and men’s basketball programs all enjoyed national rankings, while the men’s and women’s soccer teams both have competed in recent NCAA tournaments.

Student-athletes have long been excelling in the classroom as well, with 219 student-athletes named to the 2010-11 Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll. UCF has placed more student-athletes on the honor roll than any other public university in the conference for five straight years.

“This tremendous opportunity is possible thanks to the outstanding efforts of our student-athletes, coaches and administrators, as well as our faculty, staff, students and alumni,” said interim Director of Athletics Al Harms. “We look forward to competing against some of the most well-known and competitive teams from around the country.”

UCF competes at the Division I level in football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s rowing, softball, women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, women’s cross country and women’s volleyball.

A member of Conference USA since 2005, UCF has won 15 conference titles across all sports. UCF teams also have played in 26 NCAA tournaments since then, and UCF student-athletes have won 33 Academic All-American awards.

“We would not be here today were it not for our participation in Conference USA,” said President Hitt. “Commissioner Banowsky and our fellow members of Conference USA have created opportunities for universities such as ours to gain national recognition, and have distinguished themselves by handling this conference realignment with integrity and class.”

‘Exciting Time’ for Step Up

Football coach George O’Leary said the move is a major milestone for his football program and all of UCF Athletics.

“This is a great opportunity for the UCF athletics program and the university to continue reaching their goals,” he said.

The BIG EAST has a storied basketball history, and UCF’s basketball coaches look forward to competing against traditional powers such as Connecticut, Georgetown and St. John’s. The Connecticut men’s team won its third national championship last season, and two BIG EAST teams advanced to the women’s Final Four.

“Our program is very excited about the move to the BIG EAST Conference,” said men’s basketball coach Donnie Jones. “The BIG EAST has such a great tradition, and is consistently recognized as the best basketball conference in the country. This is an exciting time to be at UCF, and this is a great opportunity for our university.”

In November, Coach Jones led the Knights to a thrilling comeback victory against defending national champion UConn.

Said women’s basketball coach Joi Williams: “Though we are very appreciative of our time in Conference USA and the great experiences, we are extremely excited about increasing our visibility and having an opportunity to compete on a larger, national stage. The BIG EAST is home to many of the nation’s elite women’s basketball programs, and we hope to add to the standard of excellence both on the court and in the classroom.”