With the move of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC comes the shift of hundreds of millions of dollars. ESPN, whether directly involved or not, has changed the financial structure of two P5 leagues as the SEC gets richer and the Big XII faces the reality of a new world and a new value.
But something to watch, and many expect to happen, is that when ESPN takes over the SEC package in full starting in 2024 the league will move to nine conference games. It makes sense that ESPN wants more games of value than easy non-conference blowout wins against lower competition. But with that comes a ripple effect.
Here's how the move of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC might impact UCF. Right now Florida's 2024 non-conference schedule features a season-opening game against Miami then Sanford the second week and the season ending game at FSU. The fourth non-conference game is the newly added game against UCF in October of 2024. If we believe Oklahoma and Texas get to the SEC by 2024 and the new TV deal kicks in that season and suddenly teams will be playing nine conference games, which game is Florida going to drop?
The Gators are not dropping the game with FSU and they are not dropping the game with Miami. That brings us to Sanford and UCF. Before you quickly say Sanford, remember that coaches like wins and if you play in a league where victories are really hard to come by you try and find games not that difficult when you can.
But there's a three-game contract between UCF and Florida, right? Yes, but call it whatever you want to call it a 2-for-1 or a one-off and a home and home- Florida will have to make a choice if the SEC goes to a nine game schedule. Remember when the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi broke the story of the two scheduling a series? It was not quickly backed up by the schools announcing anything. Did Florida already know Oklahoma and Texas were coming and the possibility of a ninth conference game was on the horizon but still added the UCF game with the thought of moving it down the line if they needed? Maybe or likely. Did UCF hold a line and not give Florida an out for the 24' game if they get a 9th conference game? Maybe and likely.
The next time Florida has a non-conference opening, with less than three non-conference games, is 2027. If the SEC goes to a ninth game, the Gators need to drop games also in 2025 (USF, at Miami, FAMU, FSU) and 2026 (at NC State, Campbell, Cal, at FSU). By the way, those games the Gators scheduled against Texas in 2030 and 2031 just became conference games.
Florida will have a choice to make for 2024 if the SEC expands its schedule and it may come down to Sanford or UCF. Does the contract have a financial penalty if Florida tries to move the game in 2024? My guess is, yes. Is the financial penalty to pay off Sanford likely less? Likely. Which will they choose? Won't that become an interesting story...
When Florida and UCF do play, some have wondered what the ticket situation will be. One of the biggest reasons South Florida has been able to get games at home against Florida, Alabama and Notre Dame is because they were willing to play 2-for-1s and also offer a ton of tickets to those schools when they come to Tampa. UCF's stadium and season-ticket base does not allow the Knights the same luxury. But UCF and Florida will get the same number of visiting team tickets for all games played. Yes, UCF's allotment for Florida will be greater than the current allotment for visiting teams. How and why? Because UCF expects they will have a larger stadium by the time a game is played between the two on campus.
Scheduling ain't easy and as the SEC adds two more schools their decision to possibly play a ninth conference game will have a ripple effect on a lot of schools in the coming years but it all does come down to money because after all...it's college football.