Excitement builds among UCF coaches, athletic director with official move to Big 12

July 1 marks official start in the Big 12

UCF to allow fans at first home football game

ORLANDO, Fla. – The wait is over: UCF is officially a Power 5 university in joining the Big 12 Conference on July 1.

The University of Central Florida is coming from the American Athletic Conference, a Group of 5 conference. The other Power 5 conferences include the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

“You can feel the excitement,” UCF football head coach Gus Malzahn said in a recent interview with News 6. “We’ve been gearing up for this moment for a while as a program, trying to get a competitive roster going into the Big 12. I feel really good about that. There’s a lot of excitement around the complex.”

Every sports program at UCF except men’s soccer will be joining the Big 12. Men’s soccer will be joining the Sun Belt Conference.

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“Being in the Big 12 is an extremely nice bonus,” new UCF baseball head coach Rich Wallace said at his introductory news conference. “If you are challenging to win the Big 12, you will be in the NCAA tournament. You will probably have a chance to host a NCAA tournament. If you can do that in the Big 12, you’re going to have a chance to win that regional tournament.”

In the Big 12 last year, TCU reached the CFP National Championship. In men’s basketball, more than half of the conference was selected for March Madness. In softball, Oklahoma went on a NCAA record 53-game winning streak leading to its third straight national championship.

“It’s one of the better conferences,” Malzahn said. “Last year, one of the teams played for the National Championship, so you can get there from this conference. From top to bottom, it’s a very strong conference. It’s really good football.”

This is not the first time UCF has moved conferences. In 1975, UCF joined the Sunshine State Conference as a charter school. In 1979, the first football team for UCF took the field. The Knights jumped from a Division III school to Division II in 1982. In 1984, UCF competed as an independent school until joining the American South Conference in 1990 and becoming a Division I FCS school. UCF played in the ACS for a year and joined the Sun Belt Conference for a year. UCF joined the Atlantic Sun Conference in 1992 and stayed until 2005 to join Conference USA. The Knights stayed in the C-USA through 2012 until joining the American in 2013.

“(We’re) hugely excited,” UCF men’s basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins told News 6 in an interview. “(We’re) excited about competing against the new programs, the new coaches. It’s another great opportunity for our brand at UCF to continue to be put in an amazing light and showcase what we have here as a university, not just our sport but all of our sports. Ultimately, it’s a great opportunity for us and one I think our university will maximize.”

Even with the move, UCF will not be a full distribution member of the Big 12 until 2025. According to Sports Illustrated, Big 12 schools received $44 million. In 2022, UCF received almost $9 million in revenue distribution but will have to pay $18 million in exit fees to the AAC, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal.

In the meantime, UCF has started up “Mission XII,” a fundraising tool to help the school with the cost of moving conferences, facility upgrades and helping athletes get NIL deals.

“We’re following our road map in trying to transition everything over to Big 12 initiatives,” said Terry Mohajir, UCF vice president and athletic director. “We’re moving forward. We’re trying to invest like the best in the Big 12, and we have to do that through self-generated revenue. I think we are on track.”

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