UCF basking in glow of new Big East membership
ORLANDO - Central Florida has been trying to raise its athletic profile for much of the past decade, investing in an on-campus football stadium and new coaches. It seems finally to have paid off. Administrators and coaches were beaming like proud parents Thursday, a day after officially accepting an all-sports invitation to join the Big East Conference — which comes with an automatic-qualifying spot in a Bowl Championship Series game for football and the potential to generate considerably more revenue across the board. "One of the things that you get if you're president of a place for 20 years is just a little bit of perspective," UCF president John Hitt said Thursday. "As you think about all of this as a continuum, this is a big day in all of that…This is a remarkable time for our university and I hope all of us can savor the moment."Due to its contractual ties with Conference USA, UCF won't begin competing in the Big East until 2013. Hitt and football coach George O'Leary both said the recruiting and financial benefits of being in an automatic-qualifying conference outweigh any travel concerns. The Big East is seeking a new television contract that could approach $10 million annually per school. UCF currently pulls in around $1.16 million. As for total revenue, Hitt estimated the new affiliation could generate closer to $15 million. O'Leary said in recruiting the biggest benefit for his program is he thinks "it takes away the negatives," meaning that no one will be able to label the Knights as BCS outsiders when they're vying for athletes. "We've been slowly creeping up on this day as far as being ready to go to the Big East and being in a BCS conference," he said. "So I'm very pleased on what's in place and it's only gonna get better." UCF also gets back its football matchup with nearby South Florida. The schools played a four-year series from 2005 to 2008 that ended because USF said it wanted to play non-conference games against schools in bigger conferences. "I look at it is right away you have a great rival game in the conference without having even played the game," O'Leary said. "I think it's outstanding. I've always thought it should take place with USF, now it will and that's great for our fan base, the university and also South Florida." While football was the driving force in realignment negotiations, UCF men's basketball coach Donnie Jones said he is excited to move to a league with the basketball-rich traditions of the Big East. "Now you have a chance to sell your program and your facilities and get people here now to play in one of the best conferences," Jones said.