On the steps of City Hall in downtown Orlando, roughly three weeks after UCF officially joined the Big 12 Conference, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer issued an official proclamation:
On July 1, 2023, at just 60 years old, UCF became the nation’s youngest program in the Power Five conferences, which are considered the premier competitors in college athletics.
The UCF Athletics program stands to benefit greatly from this major milestone. UCF will be able to competitively recruit the best student-athletes in the country and regularly go toe-to-toe against some of the country’s most prestigious programs while gaining a clearer path to access the College Football Playoff.
The Knights will enjoy more resources — its media-only revenue in 2023 will weigh in around $18 million and in two years will increase to $36 million to $40 million annually (compared to $8 million to $9 million annually as a member of the American Athletic Conference).
With a commitment to upgrading facilities in the Kenneth G. Dixon Athletics Village to catch up to and even surpass its Big 12 counterparts, UCF will be in the running to host high-profile events — welcoming fans from all over the globe and adding to Orlando’s reputation as a leading tourism destination.
UCF is already seeing the effects. All of its Big 12 home games this season sold out — the first three (Baylor University, West Virginia University and Oklahoma State University) announced as sell-outs before the Knights officially joined the conference July 1.
“This will be the No. 1 trip that [opposing fans are] going to circle,” says Nicole Auerbach, senior writer for The Athletic. “They’re just going to [say], ‘Oh great, a trip to Orlando. Let’s just make this a long weekend.’”
UCF as a whole stands to benefit greatly, too. In addition to more exposure, universities typically see a rise in applications when their athletics programs thrive.
Colleges whose men’s basketball teams qualified for March Madness saw a 2.4% average increase in the total number of applications within the following year, according to a 2018 article in The Economist. That increased to 5.8% for colleges whose teams made the Final Four and to 10.9% when those teams won the championship.
This is great news for UCF, which just joined arguably the best men’s basketball conference in the country — a selling point to entice top recruits to become Knights. Seven Big 12 teams made the 2023 NCAA Tournament and Big 12 programs (Kansas and Baylor) have won two of the last three NCAA titles.
As the UCF Athletics program has grown over the years and shined under some of the brightest lights, so too has the entire university.
Andy Staples, a Central Florida native and national college football host for On3, has watched UCF evolve into a powerhouse in both academics and athletics.
“You look at some of the programs that UCF said, ‘OK, this is going to be a priority for us’ — [UCF was] looking into the future,” Staples says. “[It’s] become a place that people want to go when they’re studying computer science, when they’re studying hospitality. They understand that it’s a great education and they’re going to get the traditional college experience now.” And with a Big 12 backing, the possibilities are endless.
“The fact that we will have ads on major games that can be seen around the country, that matters to us academically,” said UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright at a September 2021 press conference announcing the university’s invitation to the Big 12. “People will see what is coming out of UCF. And we need them to realize that when you’re an exceptional institution, you decide you’re going to be exceptional at everything. Athletics is one of those things. We’re going to also be exceptional in our research and everything we do academically for our students and our community.”
The following moments and milestones outline the meteoric rise of the Knights and UCF’s journey to the Big 12.
The Climbing of Conferences
The Knights were previously involved with eight conferences, each increasing in prestige. Most recently, they finished their decade in the American Athletic Conference with 52 conference titles — more than any other league counterpart.
The Wonder Women of UCF
Since UCF’s first varsity women’s team in 1975, the Knights have dominated their field of play and work.
UCF’s women’s teams have won more than 115 conference regular-season and tournament titles in the past three decades. These Knights have earned gold at the Olympic Games, served as team captains in the FIFA Women’s World Cup and fulfilled key leadership roles in athletics departments around the country. They’ve also become doctors, Emmy winning producers, educators, coaches, engineers, marketing professionals, art directors and more.
A major reason many of those teams have been so successful is UCF’s commitment to empowering strong women leaders.
At UCF, 90% of women’s teams are led by women head coaches — more than twice the national average of 43%, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics data.
The Dynasty of UCF Cheer
Under the leadership of UCF Athletics Hall of Famer Linda Gooch ’85, the Knights cheer team has placed among the top 10 nationally in 28 of the past 30 years.
The Ultimate Game-Changer
The Knights had been playing football games for 28 years, but never in an on-campus stadium. That changed September 15, 2007, and UCF history was made.
UCF’s campus stadium was filled with fans during the first game held at the location in 2007.
The Cardiac Knights
Seven games in the 2013 football season were decided by five points or fewer as quarterback Blake Bortles led the Knights to upset No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl — helping kick-start a national brand.
From UCF’s early days battling Rollins College to dominating the War on I-4 series against the University of South Florida, the Knights’ rivalries have continued to evolve.
The Tweets and Timelines
In a state that boasts three other Power Five institutions, UCF has had to strategically rely on its youth to find ways to break through the noise. Enter the power of social media and UCF’s big, passionate fan base.
The Star Power of Space Games
With the university’s origin directly tied to supporting the nation’s growing space program, it’s easy to understand why UCF’s annual Space Games — first held in 2017 — means so much to Knight Nation and have become a buzzworthy event nationally.
The Historic Win Streak of 2017 and 2018
The UCF football team rose to the height of popularity and disrupted the college football world with a 25-0 run that spanned 745 days. The accomplishment ranks among the NCAA Division I FBS’ top 25 longest win streaks of all time. It cemented UCF as a national brand, but also exposed access barriers to the College Football Playoff.
The Battle of the Giants
The legacy of 7-foot-6-inch Tacko Fall ’19 and the UCF men’s basketball team’s near-upset of No. 1 Duke University in the 2019 NCAA Tournament became an instant March Madness classic — but it was much more than that.
The Official Invite
Seven months after Terry Mohajir was announced as UCF’s vice president and director of athletics, the Knights accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference.
To read the full stories for each milestone, visit go.ucf.edu/big12-stories.