UCF's move to Big 12 financially impacts AD's facility vision in likely big way – Orlando Sentinel

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When UCF athletics director Terry Mohajir presented his vision for a football campus to the university’s Board of Trustees, he did not yet know how soon things would be changing.
Exactly two weeks after Mohajir pitched the $50 million project, The Athletic first reported that the Big 12 Conference was eyeing four schools and UCF was included. The Knights were joined by American Athletic Conference members Houston and Cincinnati along with independent BYU.
One week later, and just three weeks removed from his original pitch to the board, Mohajir found himself in front of the trustees again. This time, he asked to accept the invite from the Power Five league.
They said yes.
“It really wasn’t,” Mohajir said when asked if his football campus concept was shared with a Big 12 invite in mind. “It was really what we believed.”
The move to the Big 12 impacts the plans for the facilities upgrades and not just the football campus, but the entire $130 million renovation for all UCF sports.
This year, the Big 12 distributed $345 million to its 10 members, or $34.5 million per school, according to ESPN. Meanwhile, the AAC distributes around $7 million per school, the Sports Business Journal reported in 2019 when the conference and ESPN struck a 12-year media rights deal worth $1 billion.
While the four new members are not expected to immediately get full distribution shares, according to Sports Illustrated, their first-year shares in the Big 12 are expected to double — if not triple — their American distribution at about $20 million per school.
“Yes, we’re getting a raise,” Mohajir said with a laugh.
Not only is the TV revenue expected to change for the better, but so will fundraising. UCF already has taken advantage of the Power Five tag, introducing a new level to its Shareholders Society which has four groups.
The status is called “the Big 12 level” which requires a $60,000 pledge or $12,000 annually over five years, a play on the league’s name. The Big 12 level will replace the Preferred Shareholder level, which was set at $10,000 annually.
Since the new level was announced, three donors have joined at the stage. Additionally, three new members have joined at the basic Shareholder level at $5,000 annually, or $25,000 over five years. A separate $80,000 commitment was anonymously made as well.
Despite the expected increase in TV revenue and overall fundraising, Mohajir understands the money won’t come to UCF immediately.
“It’s not just going to be where we have this windfall of cash all of a sudden,” Mohajir said. “It’s going to be a process and we’ve got to figure out the aggregate, that’s why we have outstanding financial people on this campus. We’ll continue to mine through that and navigate through that, but it’s good.”
Joining the Big 12 bodes well for UCF in the long run as the entire athletics budget could increase in the future.
In June, more than a month before the Houston Chronicle indicated that Texas and Oklahoma had reached out to the SEC about joining, Mohajir submitted to the trustees a proposed operating budget of $71.8 million to the university for the 2021-22 academic year.
Part of that included a revenue budget for the athletics department of $59,189,838, the Orlando Sentinel previously reported. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, UCF found itself in the green, expecting a $1.5 million surplus off last year.
While cost-cutting moves helped, money UCF received from University of Tennessee from the buyouts of former AD Danny White and football coach Josh Heupel helped in a huge way. In total, UCF received about $6.1 million from the Vols.
When looking at the revenue, however, it’s clear UCF is entering a league that handles a lot more money. If UCF joined the Big 12 tomorrow, the Knights would have the lowest amount of revenue by nearly $31 million.
The smallest revenue total reported in 2020 in the Big 12 was Kansas State’s which sat around $89 million, according to USA TODAY. The largest reported revenue within the Big 12 that year came from Texas, which reportedly saw an income of over $223 million.
Over time, UCF’s total budget will continue to grow, especially as the years go by in the Big 12. It’s already happened in the past five years. UCF’s athletics budget has grown from $51 million in 2015-16 to an expected $74 million in 2020-21.
The budget could reach $100 million within five years based on the current growth rate, before any expected TV revenue from the Big 12 is received. In other words, UCF is headed in the right direction financially.
Regardless of how much money UCF will earn once in the Big 12, it will likely help fund Mohajir’s facilities vision. Although, the UCF AD constantly reminds himself of one of his core ideals.
“I’ve said, your level is a state of mind, you’ll continue to hear me say that,” Mohajir said. “We need to be a top 10 program and regardless of which conference we’re in, I still believe we can do that and the advent of the football campus allows us to.”