College Sports

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale backs UCF to get a playoff shot

Last March, college basketball fans witnessed the remarkable ride Loyola-Chicago went on en route to a Final Four appearance.

They also saw UMBC (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) become the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Cinderella getting a chance to knock off a powerful program or two is something longtime ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale has seen, and it’s the main difference between college basketball and the current structure to college football that has left UCF — despite a 25-game winning streak — out of its playoff for two years in a row.

“What’s beautiful about our game is that the Davids play the Goliaths,” Vitale told the Herald this week prior to him getting inducted into his 14th Hall of Fame.

The argument lobbied against UCF is the Knights’ strength of schedule, or lack thereof in the CFP committee’s eyes.

But Vitale has a counterpoint to that criticism.

“I don’t want to hear the screaming, crying they don’t play anybody,” Vitale said. “Well, none of the big guys will play them. If they do play them, it’s always on their terms.”

Late last week, University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and UCF athletic director Danny White engaged in a back-and-forth regarding a chance at a future series between the two schools.

Stricklin wanted a 2-for-1 series against the Knights, which isn’t something White agreed with, according to multiple reports.

“I’m encouraged to hear that UF is open to the idea of playing us in football,” White told the Orlando Sentinel. “Since I’ve been here, it had been made clear to me there wasn’t much hope of that. Our scheduling philosophy has been transparent since I arrived at UCF — that we’re open to a home-and-home series with any non-conference Power 6 opponent.

“Top-10 programs don’t schedule 2-for-1 series where the balance is not in their favor. Our growing fan base and our student-athletes deserve better than that.”

The Power 6 reference is in line with American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco’s branding of the AAC as a conference on par with the current Power 5 structure of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

On Wednesday, The Athletic reported there are people such as Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and West Virginia president Gordon Gee saying the CFP should expand before the current 12-year contract with ESPN ends in 2026.

Former Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas even went so far as proposing an eight-team playoff to The Athletic, which, if applied to this season, would include UCF as a seven seed opening the playoffs at Clemson.

“These kids go undefeated two years,” Vitale said. “I’m not saying right now, you could make the case because of strength of schedule that the four teams that are in there [Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma], they’re all going to be in there. But if they had eight teams, [UCF] could probably be included in it.”

“There’s always something special about March Madness when you got the Loyola-Chicagos, teams like that, coming in and beating the big guy.”

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.