The UCF men’s soccer team will compete in the American Athletic Conference for one more athletic season before transitioning to become an affiliate member of the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2023-24.
“I’m very excited to be partnering with Commissioner Keith Gil and Deputy Commissioner Kathy Keene. They are great people and I’m excited to work with them again,” said UCF Vice President and athletics director Terry Mohajir. “We believe the move to the Sun Belt positions our men’s soccer program for great success in the coming years. Coach Calabrese has shown his teams can compete with the best of the best in The American, and we can’t wait to see the program continue to grow and compete in the very strong Sun Belt Conference.”
The move is in tandem with the rest of UCF’s sports moving to the Big 12 Conference in 2023-24, a league which does not sponsor men’s soccer. The Knights have been part of The American for nine seasons and in August will embark on their 10th and final campaign as part of the conference. The Black and Gold have enjoyed success as part of the league, reaching the conference final in each of the last five seasons. Over that time, UCF has earned three regular-season titles and one tournament championship. The Knights boast nine NCAA Tournament appearances all-time—including three of the last four seasons (2018, 2019, 2020).
“We are very excited to accept the invitation to join what will clearly be an incredible conference for men’s soccer,” said head coach Scott Calabrese. “I love that the Sun Belt will be the home of both the Big 12 and the SEC for men’s soccer along with 2020 National Champions Marshall and so many top soccer programs as well. It’s an exciting new challenge for our program and we can’t wait to be a part of it in 2023.”
The Sun Belt will be the fourth conference the UCF men’s soccer program has been a part of, playing in the Atlantic Sun from 1993-2004, Conference USA from 2005-2012 and The American from 2013 through the 2022 season.
“We are thrilled to add UCF to what is certain to become one of the nation’s premier men’s soccer conferences,” said Sun Belt Conference commissioner Keith Gill. “We look forward to a bright future for men’s soccer in the Sun Belt.”
The Sun Belt recently re-emerged as a conference, resuming play in 2022 after previously sponsoring men’s soccer from 1976-1995 and 2014-20. The Knights will join Kentucky, South Carolina and West Virginia as men’s soccer members only. Those four teams will join James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern and Georgia State.
The members of the revamped Sun Belt have enjoyed great success lately. Marshall won the national championship during the 2020 season, played in the spring of 2021. West Virginia and Kentucky reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament this season and finished No. 8 and No. 11 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, respectively. Coastal Carolina is one of the winningest programs in the NCAA and has made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2010. Overall, six of UCF’s nine future conference mates finished in the top 75 of this season’s RPI, with four of those finishing in the top 35.
With the addition of the Black and Gold, the Sun Belt will boast some of the sport’s most accomplished programs. The nine teams set to begin competition this fall have combined for more than 100 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances.