UCF athletic director Danny White said Wednesday that the program has decided to claim a national championship and will place a championship banner inside Spectrum Stadium to recognize its undefeated 2017 season.
The Knights beat Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to cap a 13-0 season, finishing as the only undefeated team in college football. But because UCF doesn't play in a Power 5 conference, it entered the bowl game ranked No. 12 by the College Football Playoff selection committee and was not given an opportunity to play for the national championship.
Nonetheless, the school said that it will hold a celebratory parade for the team at Disney World on Sunday. UCF and Orlando announced Thursday they would hold a national championship celebration Monday evening, the day of the CFP national championship game.
Since the victory on New Year's Day, UCF football has changed its Twitter display name to "2017 National Champions" with a logo designed to match.
White initially told Orlando radio station 96.9 The Game about plans for the banner.
"If you take the long view of the history of college football, there's an awful lot of national championships being claimed by universities that didn't accomplish what we accomplished this year in those respective seasons, so we feel we're more than justified to claim our first national championship, and we think it'll be the first of many," White told ESPN. "I don't think our kids should be penalized because we weren't respected by the College Football Playoff committee, nor should our program be penalized because we weren't around 20 or 30 years ago when people were claiming national championships left and right.
"We're trying to build our program, and we feel very strongly as the only undefeated team and having beat Auburn, who beat both teams competing for the national championship, that we have an extremely sound case to claim the crown."
UCF coaches are going to get paid like they won the national title. White confirmed on Twitter that the previous coaching staff will be paid national championship bonuses included in their contracts. The staff was informed earlier this week. Former head coach Scott Frost has left UCF to take over permanently at Nebraska, his alma mater, and took all of his coaches with him to Lincoln.
People outside the school are taking up UCF's cause as well. Along East Colonial Drive, near the UCF campus, two billboards went up in the aftermath of the Peach Bowl, one congratulating the Knights on "the 2017 national championship" and one imploring Associated Press voters to cast a ballot with UCF as the national champs.
Ken Kueker, a media specialist for Billboard Connection, is the man behind the billboards. He graduated from UCF 30 years ago and remains a fan, active on message boards. He first posted billboards after the American Athletic Conference title game hoping to inspire the selection committee to include UCF in the playoff, and he decided to follow up with a push for a national title.
"We wanted to continue to campaign to at least force people to look at the issues," Kueker said. "There's a lot of people outside UCF supportive of it, but also a lot of fans of Power 5 that think it's kind of ridiculous."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, UCF is the 10th team in the BCS era (since 1998) to finish the season undefeated and not win the national title. The last was Ohio State in 2012, but the Buckeyes were ineligible to compete in the Big Ten championship or go to a bowl game.
UCF also isn't the first school to dispute a national championship. Alabama, for instance, recognizes 1973 as a championship year. The coaches' poll did name the Crimson Tide No. 1 that year, but voting took place before they lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. The AP voted the Fighting Irish No. 1 and Alabama fourth after the season.
White said he hopes the ongoing discussion about whether the selection committee gave UCF a fair opportunity this season opens more dialogue about where Group of 5 teams stand moving forward. He also heavily criticized the selection committee for being too subjective in its rankings, saying the Bowl Championship Series was a more equitable way to rank teams. White is in favor of an eight-team playoff.
"There should be change," White said. "It's not an equitable system. It's not equitable in terms of how we do the rankings. The BCS era was much more accurate for how teams were ranked, more objective, and I don't think the playoff is adequate to determine a true national champion. You can't subjectively pick only four teams. I think you need to come up with some more objective rankings, which we already had in place with the BCS, that allowed computers to have a voice, that allowed the media to have a voice, and the coaches' poll to have a voice so it was a combination of objectivity and subjectivity.
"That model, going back and looking at it, seems to be much more equitable, but then I think you need to have at least eight teams in a playoff if you're really going to call it a true national champion. Absent of that, we're claiming a national championship for the 2017 season."
On Tuesday, both CFP executive director Bill Hancock and committee chairman Kirby Hocutt told ESPN's Heather Dinich that they stood behind the way UCF was ranked all season.
"The selection committee respected UCF," Hancock said.
Those inside the UCF athletic department and around Orlando contend differently. Though UCF won't get a trophy or official acknowledgement as a national champion, White said it is important to hang a banner inside the stadium and recognize the efforts of the players.
"It's a proud moment for our university," White said. "Having an undefeated football season is unique, and this is a moment in time we don't want to forget, and it deserves to be memorialized with a national championship banner."