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UCF and USF are at a crossroads as the two programs are trending in opposite directions

UCF and USF are heading in opposite directions. This can be attributed to a word synonymous with I-4. Construction.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that UCF has its own stadium, and USF doesn’t. It’s a point of pride for Knights fans. Not just that, but UCF won its first conference championship in 2007. That’s the same year Spectrum Stadium, then called Bright House Networks Stadium, opened. Since then, UCF has 6 conference championships, is 2-1 in major bowl games, and has a “National Championship.” USF has none of that, something UCF fans love to bring up.

Spectrum Stadium has become one of the fiercest home field advantages in all of college football. It seats over 44,000, features a beach cabana, and has a Bermuda grass field. It has fans, selling out 2019’s season ticket allotment. It has a nickname, the Bounce House, and it can back that name up, swaying as fans jump to ‘Zombie Nation.’

Florida A&M v Central Florida
Knighto takes the field at Spectrum Stadium.
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

George O’Leary, for all his imperfections, was the program builder that UCF needed. He brought them from the Citrus Bowl, a venue where UCF had trouble filling up, to an on-campus stadium.

Opening in the second season of O’Leary’s tenure, was Nicholson Fieldhouse. The average fan would be excused for not knowing what that is, but it’s UCF’s indoor practice facility. The first indoor practice facility built in the state of Florida for a Division 1 football program. The facility was a landmark change in the state and proved that UCF was ready to seriously commit to their football program, just like the Big 3 (Florida, Florida State, and Miami).

UCF football practice
UCF practices away from the elements, inside of Nicholson Fieldhouse.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

USF has neither its own stadium, nor an indoor practice facility. The administration does have plans to improve its athletics facilities. However, they’re in funding Hell, trying to get the money together.

The goal? $40 million for their new football athletics facilities. That would fund an indoor practice facility, new training facilities, improved medical facilities, and new meeting rooms.

It would not include a new stadium, and USF is far from being able to fund the project.

UCF built Nicholson Fieldhouse for $4.3 million. Granted, it is 15 years old, but if USF was willing to build a cheaper facility, they’d already have their indoor practice facility.

So, what is the real cost of losing out on an indoor practice facility? When you play in Florida, and need to dodge thunderstorms, schedule practice around class, and share facilities with an NFL team, it’s a high cost.

They lose practice time. Some days, scheduling practice at all is difficult. Not only is that unappealing to recruits, it provides an obstacle for the coaching staff to develop talent.

Not having proper practice facilities has left USF behind the 8 ball.

As for a stadium, it would be a good idea for USF to build one on-campus sooner rather than later. Last week Wisconsin fans filled the lower bowl at the rented out Raymond James Stadium. In the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, where USF lost to Marshall, no one showed up. Before that, UCF filled the stadium and blew out the Bulls in the War on I-4.

In general, unless the other team playing has fans that travel well, USF has trouble filling their stadium. It’s difficult for students to reach Raymond James, and many don’t want to go unless the team is winning.

Pride in the program is difficult to find on campus when the football team doesn’t spend any time on campus.

Now, what type of recruit would want to play in an empty, off-campus stadium? What recruit would want to go to a school where practice will be cancelled because of weather on a regular basis? What recruit would choose USF over UCF based on their facilities? None.

For years, even when UCF was winning C-USA championships and USF won nothing, the Bulls could out-recruit the Knights due to being in the Big East and reaping all of the revenue benefits that comes with being in a BCS conference. The inferior facilities didn’t matter.

Central Florida v South Florida
UCF celebrates beating USF in Raymond James Stadium.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

UCF has won the War on I-4 the past two seasons in a row. USF does lead the series overall, but again, that’s more about Big East vs. C-USA recruiting in the early stages of the rivalry.

It’s clear that UCF is the better program right now. It’s clear that UCF is improving at a much quicker rate than USF, who appears to be taking a step back under Charlie Strong.

South Florida vs Central Florida
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 24: Titus Davis #10 of the UCF Knights holds the War on I-4 trophy after a game against the South Florida Bulls at Spectrum Stadium on November 24, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. UCF Knights defeated South Florida Bulls 49-42. (Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)
Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

Now, with equal visibility in the same conference, better branding, and more revenue than before, UCF is proving to be too much for USF to consistently compete against.

UCF is moving forward, while USF stagnates.

South Florida vs Central Florida
A metaphor? UCF’s McKenzie Milton ran in for a touchdown, while a USF defender missed on a dive, while trying to catch up to him.
Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

The issue now for USF is even if they get the funding, and build their new facilities and stadium, they will now be chasing UCF.

It’s well known that UCF is planning a lazy river for athletes. That’s only part of a planned $30 million upgrade for their facilities which, again, are already better than USF’s. Not to mention, UCF is having a much easier time raising money from donations than USF.

Before 2019 turned over, UCF was two-thirds of the way to their goal of $30 million in fund raising. Then they received a $13 million donation from a single donor in the 2019 off-season. USF has had no such luck.

There’s even whispers of UCF expanding Spectrum Stadium by between 10,000 and 20,000 seats.

The goal: more fans, a bigger and better experience, and entice potential Power 5 opponents to visit Spectrum Stadium.

College football is a game of haves and have-nots. And in this era it’s an arms race for better facilities.

In the War on I-4, UCF has better facilities, which makes them a have. Without an on-campus stadium and perhaps more importantly, an indoor practice facility, USF is a have not.

Everyone in college football knows the difference. Soon USF will too if changes don’t occur.

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