As UCF wraps up its Spring practices, it’s time for its Spring game. For many schools, the Spring game has become a tradition by not being traditional. Ole Miss had hot dog-eating contests. Illinois invited back former players to do skills challenges. North Texas had Corgi races.

UCF was no different in not having a traditional Spring game. This year, it was the Knights versus the ‘Nauts again. Like last year, they played two 12-minute quarters and scored points in various skill challenges. The ‘Nauts opened up a 13-0 lead and cruised to a 26-7 win for their second straight victory.

Spring Games are for the Fans

Why do these schools do these things instead of a traditional football game? Simple. Spring games are for the fans. It’s also an opportunity for the players and coaches to cut loose and have fun. Along with the game and skill challenges, UCF sold experiences to fans through their NIL collective, such as a chance to be one of the coordinators or kicking an extra point.

UCF has developed a history under head coach Gus Malzahn of doing unique uniform-related things for the Spring game. In 2021, players had their social media handles on the back of their jerseys. The following year, they had large QR codes that linked to pages with player-branded merchandise. 2023 was the first year of the current format. After the traditional 24 minutes of football, the players get an opportunity to compete in other challenges. This includes a contest of who can throw the farthest, linemen and coordinators fielding punts, and who can run the fastest 40-yard dash. The festivities also include a race between Pegasus, UCF’s horse mascot, and someone dressed up in a Citronaut costume.

The change in how UCF prepares and operates its Spring game has yielded positive results and the school is keenly aware of what it’s aiming to accomplish. We asked Associate AD for Content Eric DeSalvo about the evolution of the Spring game over the last few years. He stated, “After the success of the first two Spring games under Gus’ direction with the Twitter handles and QR Codes in respective years, we collectively wanted to keep that momentum going.” He continued, “When we looked at the calendar for 2023, we saw the opportunity that Friday night presented to have more recruits. That has happened with a 20% increase in prospects at the last two games compared to 2021-22.”

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The 2024 UCF Spring Game

The 2024 edition was also on Friday night and had a shortened game time and skills challenges. This year, instead of a specific uniform design, the players decided to have the helmet decals that included the traditional block UCF, Knighthead, the Citronaut logo, and Citronauts wordmark colored by patients at the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Like in previous years, this creates a unique twist that only a Spring game can provide. For the Knight vs ‘Naut race, DeSalvo dressed up and ran.

We asked Mary Ashbaugh, a fan who has been actively attending games for quite some time about how she enjoys UCF’s approach to the Spring game. She stated, “I like the shorter game. We don’t need to play an entire game. They don’t need to risk injuries.” She continued the sentiment that the UCF Spring game is for the fans, saying, “It’s for practice and for fans to see the players on the field.” When asked about the skills challenges and how those add something to the game, Ashbaugh stated, “The skills challenges make it fun for the team and fans. It’s nice to see the players enjoying themselves. Not a single fan seemed bored and going on the field afterwards was incredible. No matter how many times we go, it never gets old.”

The Kingdom

As mentioned above, UCF has partnered with the local NIL collective, The Kingdom, to sell various experiences to fans to raise NIL-related money. One fan, Zack Shields, has purchased the chance to kick an extra point in each of the past two games. While he has no future as a kicker, he was still thrilled to have fun and help UCF raise some money. Shields elaborated on The Kingdom and the importance of supporting the NIL Collective, “Everyone collaborates on how we can innovate and take things to another level, which is what we do at UCF. And of course, any opportunity to support and raise money for The Kingdom is an opportunity we shouldn’t let pass because no matter your stance on it, the reality is we are in a new era of college football, and every dollar matters until the rules change.”

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Several points are constant no matter whose point of view it is. This is still a practice and the chance to see what the players can do in a controlled environment. It’s also about players and fans having fun while improving UCF’s brand. DeSalvo touched on this evolving environment, saying, “At the end of the day it’s a practice, so we wanted the second half to be all about entertainment and for a chance to see the guys’ athletic abilities and personalities in a unique way. We’re already working on how to better that for next year.”

With Spring ball in the books, we are set to begin the Spring transfer portal window. To quote Samuel L. Jackson from Jurrasic Park, “Hold on to your butts.”




Photo courtesy: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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