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Context Needed for the UCF Attendance Debate

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O'Leary's remarks about the fanbase miss the big picture.

O'Leary coaches up the Knights against SMU
O'Leary coaches up the Knights against SMU
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

I sat in the slow but steady rains that engulfed Bright House Networks Stadium Saturday afternoon.  In some sick way, I actually enjoyed dealing with this miserable weather and watching UCF throttle SMU.  That said, I never expect everyone to universally have the same opinion about something like attending a football game.

UCF head coach George O'Leary has a different viewpoint about where attendance should be for the Knights.  He told the Orlando Sentinel's Shannon Owens-Green he was disappointed with the turnout against the Mustangs.

"I was very disappointed for the senior class," O'Leary said Sunday when asked about the attendance. "You get tired of listening to all the excuses from administration or whoever, but you know I think the fans that came are the base of the program and that's what you rely on. And the others are what they are - they're fly-by-the-night people."

Being critical of attendance is a common theme in any O'Leary dissertation over the past several years.  While I understand where the coach is coming from, I also disagree with his process for reaching that conclusion.

O'Leary's main point centers on the growing UCF alumni base that have stayed in Orlando or moved within reasonable traveling distance.

There are 235,000 current graduates and that number grows by 15,000 every year according to the UCF Alumni Association website.  Of that group, I have heard O'Leary bandy about a 150,000 number that presumably makes up the Central Florida based alums.

While those numbers are large, ask yourself a few questions.  How many of those people actually care about sports? How many are in the position to be season ticket holders or boosters?

The answer is not as many as you think.  Knights' tickets can be very affordable, but not necessarily to a young, financially struggling alum that does not place sports as a priority.  Couple that with the fact that UCF is still on the outside looking in when it Power Five football.

I still live and die with the Knights. If you are reading this, you probably do too. Expecting a casual fan to buy into multiple weeknight games and matchups against the SMUs of the world though is just unrealistic.

UCF only got close to a sellout once this season, but the program is still among the best supported in what we now call the Group of 5 conferences.  You can use any metric to evaluate that whether it be attendance, TV ratings, or merchandise sales and the Knights stack up very well against schools in their same boat.

If a bigger conference is looking, they are still writing down UCF on their short list because fan base growth at a higher level of competition is a given.   The school will have more money to market better games, which will most likely be contested in superior timeslots.

Selling a Big 12 schedule is infinitely easier than putting a pretty bow on the Knights' current American Athletic Conference slate.

UCF has a hardcore group of about 20,000 fans that can get to your regular Saturday games.  Add about 10,000 students and that leaves another 15,000 empty seats that need casual fans sitting in them to get a sellout at BHNS.

Every program has casual fans they just vary in amount.  None of those folks were going to sit in the rain to watch the Knights play a winless opponent, Senior Day or not.

Without the buzz of a more marquee home schedule or a magical run like 2013, there is not much to lure in the fence riders.  A Penn State loss to begin the year and shocking defeat at UConn also do not help build any attendance momentum.

O'Leary is an old school, bottom line football coach.  That way of thinking normally serves you well in the game of football, but the past, present, and future of the UCF fanbase is not a clear-cut story.