In the wake of the greatest season in UCF history, a central Florida-based state representative has sent a letter to the Big 12 commissioner, lobbying for the Knights to be considered if/when the league expands.
In the spirit of diplomacy, he included USF in his solicitation.
Rep. Robert "Bobby" Olszewski, whose district represents parts of southwest Orange County and the Walt Disney World resort area, sent his letter — dated Jan. 10 — to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. In it, he describes himself as "a proud alumnus of both UCF and USF."
"There's no question with the exciting season that both UCF and USF had this year, and the proliferation of the importance of TV ratings for their bowl games, the timing seemed right just to ask Bob Bowlsby…to basically keep UCF and USF at the top of his mind and his member institutions' minds," Olszewski said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
Oslzewski graduated from Orlando's Dr. Phillips High (where he was a backup catcher to A.J. Pierzynski), and attended USF for two years (1995-97), working in radio for USF athletics. He transferred to UCF and earned his bachelor's degree in '99.
He also spent more than than a decade doing public-relations work for the Butkus Award (presented annually to the nation's top linebackers at various levels) and was employed by Florida Citrus Sports.
In his letter, Olszewski points out the highly successful seasons recorded by both the Knights (13-0) and Bulls (10-2), and alludes to the glowing ratings generated by their nationally-televised Black Friday contest (a 49-42 UCF triumph).
The contest delivered ABC's third-highest audience for a 3:30 p.m. Black Friday game dating to 2002, and has been rated by some media outlets as the most exciting college game of 2017.
"Obviously with ESPN as the media partner for the College Football Playoff, I also just wanted to show how important the geography of central Florida is to ESPN's parent company (Disney)," Olszewski said.
"I think we saw evidence of that with Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom hosting a parade for UCF for winning the Peach Bowl. With the outstanding ratings that the 'War on I-4' game received, and the fact that I had also previously dealt with Bob Bowlsby in my capacity with the Butkus Award and Florida Citrus Sports, I said I might as well reach out to promote two great universities…and promote our great state of Florida."
The Big 12 pondered expansion in 2016, and even vetted 11 finalists, before opting to remain a 10-team outfit. Its current TV contract, which distributes roughly $20 million annually to each of its member institutions, expires in 2025. Whether expansion again is considered before then is unclear.
"Because the TV ratings have become so even much more critical, I think, than they have been in the past…you can't negate how powerful the Orlando and Tampa Bay media markets are to anyone, and the eyeballs that are available there," Olszewski said.
"I think our two universities in our state are gonna provide a lot more eyeballs than Ames, Iowa (home to Iowa State) and Manhattan, Kan. (home to Kansas State), to name just two."