A Guide to the Non-Football Side of the Big 12

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

For as much growth as the AAC has seen over the last few years, it’s no small secret that UCF’s move to the Big 12 is a long-awaited step up. There’s a reason why the acceptance of that invite on Sept. 10 was so widely celebrated by anyone and everyone who has been associated with UCF or UCF Athletics over the years. This is UCF’s move to the big-time, and it’s quite possible that the reality of it still hasn’t even set in for some, given that the transition is a couple of years away. 

Much has been made about what this move to the Big 12 will do for UCF Football. Even with Texas and Oklahoma eventually departing for the SEC, the new Big 12 is objectively a step up for the Knights—especially in terms of TV revenue. With “Power Five” status, UCF will take the next step in its development as a program. More money means better facilities (hello, football campus) and with better facilities comes recruiting advantages. Being a Power Five program was perhaps the last piece of the puzzle for recruiting, as UCF now has even more to offer for prospects. 

But how will jumping up from the AAC to the Big 12 impact some of the other programs within UCF Athletics? Broadly speaking, there’s more than likely going to be even bigger adjustments for the volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball programs as they transition into the Big 12. When you really get into it, it’s clear that this is quite the powerful conference in each of those sports. 

Omitting Texas and Oklahoma, let’s go sport by sport and get familiar with the programs that UCF will soon be seeing on a yearly basis. 

Note: For the purposes of this breakdown, we’re looking at each program’s NCAA Tournament appearances over the last five seasons. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the years covered will vary by sport. 

Men’s Basketball

Baylor: The Bears have made three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2017, with a fourth being stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic after they went 26-4 overall and 15-3 in Big 12 play during the 2019-20 season… After a Sweet 16 elimination in 2017 and a Round of 32 exit in 2019, they won the national championship in 2021.

BYU: Reached the NCAA Tournament in 2021, which could’ve been a second straight appearance for the Cougars, who went 24-8 overall and 13-3 in the West Coast Conference during the 2019-20 season before COVID-19 canceled the tournament.

Cincinnati: As one of the more successful programs in the AAC in recent years, the Bearcats made the NCAA Tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before being considered a bubble team before the 2020 tournament was canceled… The team made it to the Round of 32 in both 2017 and 2018 before a Round of 64 exit in 2019.

Houston: The Cougars have been another top power in the AAC, with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018, 2019 and 2021… COVID-19 robbed them of another appearance after a 23-8 overall record and a 13-5 conference record during the 2019-20 season… A first-round exit in 2018 was followed by much mor success, with Kelvin Sampson’s team getting to the Sweet 16 in 2019 before a Final Four exit in 2021.

Iowa State: Though less successful in recent years than other Big 12 programs, the Cyclones appeared in the field of 64 in both 2017 and 2019, going as far as the Round of 32 in 2017.

Kansas: A national brand, Kansas is one of the premier programs in the Big 12… The Jayhawks made tournament appearances in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, plus a 28-3 record (17-1 Big 12) in 2019-20 would’ve made it five appearances out of the last five years… They reached the Elite Eight in 2017 and appeared in the Final Four the following year before Round of 32 exits in their last two appearances.

Kansas State: The Wildcats made tournament appearances in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before down years in 2020 and 2021… In between Round of 64 exits in 2017 and 2019, they made it to the Elite Eight in 2018.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys reached the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2021, getting knocked out in the Round of 64 the first time around before a second-round exit this past season.

TCU: The Horned Frogs have had less success in men’s basketball than most of the Big 12 over the last five years, but they did make the NCAA Tournament in 2018 before a Round of 64 exit.

Texas Tech: With tournament appearances in 2018, 2019 and 2021—and finishing the 2019-20 season on the tournament bubble—the Red Raiders are one of the tougher teams in the conference… They reached the Elite Eight in 2018 before losing in the national championship in 2019.

UCF: The Knights’ lone NCAA Tournament appearance within the last five years came in 2019, when they picked up their first-ever tournament win in the first round before a heartbreaking second-round exit at the hands of Duke.

West Virginia: If the 2020 NCAA Tournament had been played, the Mountaineers would’ve likely had four appearances in the last five years. As it is, they have three, making it in 2017, 2018 and 2021… A first-round exit in 2017 and a second-round elimination in 2021 had a 2018 Sweet 16 appearance sandwiched in between.

Quick Thoughts: The new Big 12 will still be one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country. Every program has reached the tournament at least once in the last five years, including the four new ones. There are established basketball brands like Kansas and Baylor leading the way most years, as well as strong programs such as Texas Tech, West Virginia, Houston and Cincinnati (to name only some) consistently in the tournament mix as well. Once the move is made, UCF Men’s Basketball will have an uphill battle in terms of competing right away. But on the brighter side, this is a league that receives plenty of tournament bids each year. Just this past season, seven of the ten teams went dancing.

Women’s Basketball

Baylor: When it comes to women’s basketball, the Big 12 is Baylor’s conference. The Bears are a national powerhouse, with NCAA Tournament appearances in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Considering they went 28-2 overall and 17-1 in conference play during the 2019-20 season, they very well could’ve gone deep in the 2020 tournament if it hadn’t been canceled… Baylor went to the Elite Eight in 2017 and the Sweet 16 in 2018 before winning the national title in 2019. This past year, they were eliminated in the Elite Eight.

BYU: The Cougars join UCF in the half of Big 12 newcomers with women’s basketball tournament appearances in the last five years, as they made the field in 2019 and 2021… In both years, they went out in the second round.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years, though their 2019-20 season in which they went 22-9 overall and 13-5 in AAC play is worth noting.

Houston: The Cougars do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Iowa State: The Cyclones have reached the tournament three times in the last five years, reaching the field in 2017, 2019 and 2021. They finished the 2019-20 season 18-11 overall and 10-8 in Big 12 play… They experienced a first-round exit in 2017 before bowing out in the second round in both 2019 and 2021.

Kansas: The Jayhawks do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Kansas State: The more recently successful of the two Big 12 women’s basketball programs, Kansas State made the tournament in 2017 and 2019, plus they were in the mix before the 2020 tournament was canceled… They went out in the second round in 2017 before a first-round exit in 2019.

Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls reached the NCAA Tournament in 2018 before making it back in 2021. Both of those appearances ended with the team getting eliminated in the second round.

TCU: The Horned Frogs do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years, but a 22-7 overall record and a 13-5 mark in conference play might’ve had them in the 2020 tournament if not for COVID-19. 

Texas Tech: The Lady Raiders do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

UCF: The Knights appeared in both the 2019 and 2021 NCAA Tournament fields, exiting in the first round both times… They may have earned another appearance in 2020 if not for the cancellation of the tournament.

West Virginia: With tournament appearances in 2017 and 2021, the Mountaineers have been in the mix most years… In both 2017 and 2021, they were eliminated in the second round.

Quick Thoughts: While it’s not nearly as strong as it is in men’s basketball, the Big 12 is still a competitive women’s basketball conference. Seven of the programs have multiple tournament appearances in the last five years, with six making the field this past season. It’s clear that Baylor is the dominant force in the league, and it’s actually quite a bit of bad luck for UCF that it will have to match up against the Bears on a yearly basis not long after UConn—another women’s basketball powerhouse—left the AAC. Nonetheless, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s team should be able to continue to compete at a high level in the Big 12, and the fact that it’s more than just a two- or three-bid league can only help the Knights.

Volleyball

Baylor: The Lady Bears are solid year in and year out, and they’ve made tournament appearances in each of the last five seasons (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020). After going out in the second round in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Baylor broke through with a Final Four appearance in 2019 before making it back to the Sweet 16 this past season.

BYU: Of the four new Big 12 members, BYU has the strongest recent track record in volleyball. The Cougars have reached the tournament in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. They made Sweet 16 trips in 2016, 2017 and 2020 in addition to a Final Four appearance in 2018. Their 2019 appearance ended in the second round.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have seen recent success in volleyball, competing well with UCF up until the last couple of years. They made the tournament in 2016, 2018 and 2019, with first- and second-round exits in those first two seasons before a Sweet 16 trip in 2019.

Houston: Houston does not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Iowa State: The Cyclones have reached the tournament three times in the last five seasons, with first-round eliminations in 2016 and 2019 and a second-round exit in 2017.

Kansas: The Jayhawks made the tournament in both 2016 and 2017, bowing out in the first round in 2016 before a second-round exit the following year.

Kansas State: The Wildcats last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2016, falling in the second round.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State does not have a women’s volleyball team.

TCU: The Horned Frogs last went dancing in 2016, losing in the second round of the tournament.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

UCF: Todd Dagenais’ squad has been a regular in the postseason in recent years, with tournament appearances in 2018, 2019 and 2020. They were eliminated in the first round in both 2018 and 2020, but they mixed in a win in 2019 before getting bounced in the second round.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Quick Thoughts: If you’re not sensing a theme here, you should be. Baylor has an impressive athletics program. The Lady Bears sit atop the Big 12, with a few others challenging for tournament bids here and there. Three of the four new members—BYU, Cincinnati and UCF—will presumably strengthen the league from the jump. The Knights have dominated the AAC over the last few years and will face some stiffer competition in the Big 12, but this is a program that has real potential to continue its rise while stepping up to the next level. Todd Dagenais is already promising big recruiting news that will be coming soon, so it sounds as if UCF is already off to a good start on that front as it prepares to make its jump to the Big 12.

Women’s Soccer:

Baylor: Considering their strength in the previously covered sports, it’s no surprise that Baylor has had success in the women’s soccer landscape as well. The Bears reached the NCAA Tournament in both 2017 and 2018, making it to the Elite Eight in both years.

BYU: The Cougars may very well be challenging for the conference crown quite early once they move to the Big 12. They have made the tournament field in four of the last five seasons, with 2017 being the lone exception. They reached the Sweet 16 in 2016 and the Elite Eight in 2019, with early exits in 2018 and 2020.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Houston: The Cougars do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Iowa State: The Cyclones do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Kansas: The Jayhawks made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2018 before a Sweet 16 trip in 2019. Both their 2016 and 2018 appearances ended in the second round.

Kansas State: The Wildcats do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls are one of the top women’s soccer programs in the conference, at least in terms of recent success. They have reached the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons, making it in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020. The furthest they went was this past season, a year in which they got to the Sweet 16.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are a consistent force in women’s soccer, with five tournament appearances in the last five years. They were eliminated in the first round in 2016 and 2017 before going out in the second round in 2018, then they saw another first-round exit in 2019. But this past season, they reached the Elite Eight.

Texas Tech: Texas Tech has reached the tournament three times in the last five years, going in 2016, 2018 and 2019. After a first-round exit in 2016, the Red Raiders went out in the second round both in 2018 and 2019.

UCF: For as consistently strong as UCF has been in women’s soccer over the years, the first-round exit in 2017 was the program’s only NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five years.

West Virginia: When it comes to deep postseason runs in Big 12 women’s soccer, the Mountaineers lead the way as of late. They lost in the Women’s College Cup Final in 2016, reached the Sweet 16 in 2017 and 2019 and fell in the second round both in 2018 and 2020.

Quick Thoughts: Unlike some of the other sports covered here, there may not be as much of a clear-cut favorite year in and year out. West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have been the most consistent programs in recent years, but there are plenty of others in the existing Big 12 that have challenged at a high level. BYU will come in and make some noise when the new Big 12 starts play, as should UCF. Tiffany Roberts-Sahaydak has the Knights competing year after year and with the upgraded recruiting advantages that come with this move to a Power Five conference, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see UCF reach the tournament with a little more frequency soon enough.

Baseball

Baylor: The Bears have been a consistently solid baseball team as of late, with trips to regionals in 2017, 2018 and 2019 to show for it.

BYU: The Cougars last made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017, falling in the Stanford Regional.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats were a bid-stealer in the AAC back in 2019, making the NCAA Tournament before falling short in the Corvallis Regional.

Houston: The Cougars hosted an NCAA Regional as recently as 2017 and made it back to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 before getting eliminated in the Chapel Hill Regional.

Iowa State: Iowa State does not field a baseball team.

Kansas: The Jayhawks do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Kansas State: The Wildcats do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have become something of a baseball brand for the Big 12, with a College World Series appearance in 2016, regional appearances in 2017 and 2018, a Super Regional appearance in 2019 and another regional appearance in 2021. That’s quite the track record.

TCU: The Horned Frogs have been a consistent powerhouse over the last five years as well, reaching the College World Series in 2016 and 2017 before regional appearances in 2019 and 2021.

Texas Tech: No team in the Big 12 has as many College World Series appearances in the last five years as the Red Raiders do. They’ve been in the country’s final eight three times in recent years, going to Omaha in 2016, 2018 and 2019. They also made a regional in 2017 and reached a Super Regional in 2021.

UCF: The Knights’ lone NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five years came in 2017, when Greg Lovelady took the team to the Tallahassee Regional after winning the regular season conference title in his first season in Orlando.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers made regional appearances as recently as 2017 and 2019.

Quick Thoughts: As tough as the Big 12 is in men’s basketball, it looks to be just as tough in baseball. The middle and bottom tiers of the conference might be a little fuller in baseball, but the top of the league is extremely impressive. With Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State all having made it to Omaha within the last five years, it’s clear that the Knights will face an adjustment when they jump up to the Big 12. That’s not to say the AAC has been a bad conference for baseball in recent years, but UCF’s new conference is a completely different animal on the baseball diamond.

Softball

Baylor: The Lady Bears made regional appearances in 2016, 2018 and 2021, with a trip to the Women’s College World Series mixed in back in 2017 as well.

BYU: The Cougars have a consistent presence on NCAA Regional weekend, having made it to five straight.

Cincinnati: Cincinnati does not field a softball team.

Houston: Houston made the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years in 2018 and 2019.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were a regional team in 2021, and that marked their first appearance in the tournament within the last five years.

Kansas: The Jayhawks do not have any NCAA Tournament appearances in the last five years.

Kansas State: Kansas State does not field a softball team.

Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls have been the Big 12’s top softball program in recent years, making it to regionals in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before making back-to-back Women’s College World Series appearances in 2019 and 2021.

TCU: TCU does not field a softball team.

Texas Tech: Texas Tech made it to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years as recently as 2018 and 2019.

UCF: The Knights have reached the NCAA Tournament twice in the last five years, with trips to regionals in both 2016 and 2021.

West Virginia: West Virginia does not field a softball team.

Quick Thoughts: This might be where the Big 12 is at its weakest right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy conference to breeze through. It’s just that the other sports have a deeper pool of competition, plus the league has four schools that don’t field softball programs. Nonetheless, Baylor and Oklahoma State have made Women’s College World Series appearances in recent years, with the Cowgirls having reached Oklahoma City in back-to-back seasons. The path appears to be there for the Knights to become one of the better brands in the conference, especially if the program continues to grow the way it has since its 2002 founding.

Final Thoughts

There’s no getting around it: UCF’s transition to the Big 12 could prove difficult, at least at first. The men’s basketball and baseball programs in particular may struggle to adjust early on, given the strength of the league in those sports. That’s not to say it’ll be easy for women’s basketball, volleyball or women’s soccer, but those three programs have been on a consistent upswing in recent years.

In the long run, though, it’s not hard to imagine UCF blossoming into one of the new Big 12’s biggest brands on the whole. There’s a lot of talent in Orlando and throughout Florida, and getting to pitch recruits on playing at the Power Five level at a place like UCF should pay dividends for the coaching staffs of each program. Power Five money and resources—including facilities—have always felt like the missing piece for UCF, but that piece of the puzzle is finally falling into place. And if the completed puzzle truly has the potential that Knight Nation has always believed it would have, we’re about to be in for quite the journey.

About Bailey Adams 185 Articles
Bailey Adams is a senior writer covering UCF Football and Baseball for Knight Sports Now. You can follow him on Twitter at @BaileyJAdams22.