Knights or Citronauts? It’s an age-old question that many generations of UCF fans have, most often jokingly, discussed.
But ever since UCF first started openly embracing its space identity back in 2017, there has been a small but vocal chunk of the fan base calling for the school to move from a one-off Space Game to a full-on rebrand.
This offseason, the movement seems to be growing. I can’t go a day without seeing people fighting for the Citronaut on Twitter or debating the pros and cons of a rebrand on message boards.
And I just can’t help but ask: Why now?
Why, when for the first time in its 40-year history, UCF has finally established a strong and lasting national brand should the school… rebrand?
Being a Knight means something now. Four and five-star recruits are lining up to take visits. The team has declared itself the future of college football and has more or less backed that up in the last few years with multiple great seasons and a deeply passionate national fanbase.
Full-on rebrands are for struggling MAC teams looking to ride a publicity boost to get more fans to their 20,000-seat stadium, or for a school realizing that its stereotyped Native American mascot doesn’t fly in the 21st Century.
Rebrands are not for what is already the strongest brand in the Group of Five. Everyone in college football not only knows UCF but has a deep and immediate reaction to it.
This is usually the point where the pro-Citronaut crowd would say “But UCF is the brand! No one cares about ‘Knights.’” There are a couple issues with that point. First off, I don’t think fans are fully processing the potential national ridicule of UCF declaring that its mascot is now a space orange. The Citronaut is special to us because it’s been a part of our history for decades and is the physical embodiment of our school’s ties to space.
To literally the rest of college football, which is always eager to find a way to put UCF down, it’s a space orange.
Second, where does the branding stop? Sure, national folks might not care if UCF is the Knights or not, but are we really going to ditch black and gold? Those colors are deeply synonymous with UCF’s brand. Does gold get dropped for blue? Or matched together? Is UCF really going to elevate its brand by mimicking UCLA?
And don’t forget to say a nice goodbye to Go Knights, Charge On. And I guess Knugget is getting sent back to the farm since space oranges prefer rockets to horses. I hope none of you were too attached to beloved mascot Knightro. We’ll have to hire someone to rewrite the fight song to better feature some citrus references. Does anyone have a good name for what we’ll call it now when fans join together for Knight Lights during a football game?
The pro-Citronaut crowd is right about one thing: When UCF decided to become the Knights all those years ago, it didn’t really make sense and it certainly wasn’t tied to the school’s history. But we made it our history. I’m so proud to have been a Knight. I’m proud that my dad was a Knight before me. I’m proud that it was the Knights, not the ‘Nauts, who pulled off the biggest upset in BCS history against Baylor. That it was the Knights, not the ‘Nauts, who single-handedly jump-started the Playoff Expansion movement and showed the whole nation that there’s more to a great football team than recruiting rankings and a conference logo.
Why would we ever want to remove ourselves from all that history and create a new team identity when the one we have now is already so meaningful and so accomplished?
I love the Citronaut. I love the Space Games. And this doesn’t mean we can’t see more of that, or that the Citronaut can’t become a stronger part of our brand. Every UCF team should have space alternates. Sports like basketball and baseball should wear them multiple times. Maybe one day the football team can even have two a year, one for a home game and one for a big road game.
Space can, and has, complimented the school’s brand without taking it over. When I was a kid growing up in Orlando, I used to wonder if UCF could ever become as popular or well-known as UF or FSU. If people outside of Central Florida would ever know anything about us.
Well they do now. The brand has been built. Why throw it away?