Nov 9, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Why UCF Is Irrelevant

The third part of my examination of the Florida Sports Scene is an honest look at my favorite college team, UCF.

I love UCF.  There may be some pulling of my heart in other sports between teams.  But there is nothing of the sort with college sports.  It is UCF all the time, all the way.  The day I set foot on that campus, every other school fell away.  I still align with UGA when it comes to big things, but there is a clear number one - and no number two.  I have told my kids they are free to cheer for other teams in other sports.  But they have to root for UCF if they root at all.  Being the fan of a mid-level school is hard.  As badly as you want them to be important, it rarely happens - rarer still for them to be important in multiple sports.  As bad as I could wish that I could shut my UF supporting buddies up, I know that won't happen.  UCF is not in their league.  And honestly, it probably never will be.  Here are some things that I see, as a very ardent supporter of UCF, that keep UCF from playing any role in college sports.

1. INFERIORITY COMPLEX - I once had a buddy who worked at a very large church.  When I asked him about the place, he told me, "It is a big church that thinks it still is a small church becoming a big church."  It was always trying to prove it belonged, trying to look big.  It never realized that it WAS big and should just be itself.  UCF is the same way.  They are like the 5th largest school in the country - the largest east of the Mississippi.  They have a gorgeous campus, a new on-campus stadium, rabid fans, a supportive community, a brilliant President, and amazing academic programs.  They are a part of a mid-major conference, have been to two bowls, the NCAA Basketball Tourney, and the College Baseball Regionals.  They have produced major league baseball players, NFL players, Olympians.  Why are they still trying to prove they deserved their invite to the party?  Get over it and just BE yourself.  

2. CELEBRATING MEDIOCRITY - As a friend reminded me today, UF fired their football coach for going 7-5.  UCF gave their football coach a 10 year extension and a raise for GOING to (and losing) a bowl game.  The basketball coach is constantly rewarded for getting to the NCAA Tourney and getting destroyed in the first round.  Every year, the football team plays between one and three "real teams."  In their history, they have won exactly ONE of the games.  They always play the games close.  But they never win them.  However, there is still that "way to go guys, you did great against them.  No one expected you to win."  Why not?  Appalachian State can beat Michigan and UCF can't knock off a pathetic Miami?  Now that UCF is in Conference USA instead of the uh, Atlantic Sun, or MAC, it is now okay to not make the postseason in basketball and baseball.  Since Memphis in roundball is there, and Rice in baseball, we are excused.  That's just ridiculous.  Start demanding more.  Which ties into point three.

3. UCF HANGS ON TO COACHES TOO LONG - UCF didn't want to fire Gene McDowell because of his contributions to the football program.  They finally did, and then kept Mike Kruczek too long because he got Daunte Culpepper to go to UCF.  Then they brought in O'Leary.  In his five years at UCF, O'Leary has led UCF to 0-11, 8-5, 4-8, 10-4, and now 4-8.  In addition, a player died during the offseason at workouts.  The entire event was characterized by coverups, lies, and threats by UCF.  O'Leary on several occasions lied about what happened - this from a man with a history of lying.  Yet he is still not in hot water?  Loyalty is an admirable quality.  Refusing to pull a trigger is another.

4. LACK OF VISION - When UCF opened their stadium, they actually had a real home field advantage for the first time ever.  The stadium itself would bounce and sway when fans got excited.  They jumped on the bleachers and made the whole place shake.  It was known as The Trampoline.  Other teams actually FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES.  You could hear audible fear in announcers' voices.  ESPN guys called the stadium the loudest stadium they had been in.  So, what did UCF do?  They banned the song.  They forbade the jumping.  They solidified the stadium.  So, instead of being a place where opponents feared to play, it became a source of discontent for the home crowd.  BRILLIANT!  Kirk Speraw, UCF basketball coach, has made his entire career of recruiting JuCo players, only getting two years of play before they graduate.  There is no continuity, no long-term plan.  They reload every two years.  Fans can't get used to the players.  They just transfer in for a year or so and then leave.  BRILLIANT!  The fact that UCF took 20 something years to decide that they should play Division I football shows this best of all.

Until UCF is willing to fully commit to its sports program, and address the problems, it is going to remain a distant competitor - watching its bigger neighbors play for all the marbles.

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