A process that began with a short conversation in UCF coach George O’Leary’s office in March culminated on Sunday with O’Leary in Dublin for the official announcement. The Knights will play Penn State in Ireland to open the 2014 season.
The game will be played at Croke Park in Dublin on Aug. 30, 2014, at 8:30 a.m. and will air on ESPN2.
The announcement was made by the Gaelic Athletic Association during the Leinster Football Finals at Croke Park Sunday. O’Leary and UCF athletics director Todd Stansbury were both present for the event, as were representatives from Penn State, though Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien could not attend.
The contest will be called the Croke Park Classic.
“It's a great pleasure to be over here," O'Leary said at the press conference in Dublin announcing the game. "My grandparents are from Cork, [Ireland] and Newry, [Ireland], and a lot of brothers and sisters are far as my mother's side were born over here, so we're anxious to get over here and enjoy the Irish [people], the city of Dublin [and] the country of Ireland. ... It's going to be a great experience for our school, for our fans and for the people of Ireland."
UCF released details of travel packages for fans via the website UCF.CrokeParkClassic.com. Travel packages start at $1,439 for four days and three nights. The packages includes hotel, game tickets and a variety of tourist activities, but they do not include airfare. The website states UCF will be announcing airfare discounts soon. The travel packages can be reserved for $250.
It is "an event we hope will be a huge success for the GAA, for Croke Park, for the city of Dublin and for the country as a whole,” Gaelic Athletic Association director general Páraic Duffy said during his introductory notes at the press conference. “It promises to be a spectacular weekend of sport here in the great stadium.”
Croke Park has a history dating back more than 100 years. Located in north Dublin, the stadium has a capacity of 82,300 and is home of the Gaelic games. Capacity for the UCF-Penn State game will likely be capped at 69,000.
The long-rumored game first became a possibility when UCF signed a two-game agreement with Penn State on Feb. 6. About a month later, UCF senior athletic director for internal operations David Hansen approached O’Leary in his office about the series.
Penn State was unable to commit to a return game against UCF due, in part, to questions regarding Big Ten scheduling with the league was considering going to 10 games, but also because the Nittany Lions were looking into the possibility of playing a game in Ireland.
The thought of a game in Ireland intrigued O’Leary, and UCF soon began to explore the option of hosting Penn State in Dublin. When it became clear Penn State likely would not be making a return trip to Orlando, the school fast-tracked the process of securing the game overseas.
In late April, UCF received an offer from the GAA, which will take on much of the responsibilities of marketing and promoting the game overseas.
“They have a desire to host the NFL and maybe more college football and this is a way to show they can put on a first-class event,” said Zack Lassiter, UCF’s senior athletics director for external operations.
Unlike when Navy hosted Notre Dame in Ireland in 2012, the GAA will actually host the contest and will control all ticket revenue. UCF will be paid a guaranteed appear in the game.
“We needed to make what we typically would make if we played Penn State at home,” Hansen said. “We feel like that’s going to occur.”
The Knights' ability to move quickly helped lock in the game. Navy had three years to plan and host its game in Ireland, UCF will have done so in a total of 17 months.
The Knights will play FIU on Sept. 6 at home, leaving no bye week after the travels overseas. UCF’s 2014 nonconference schedule will be rounded out with games at Missouri on Sept. 13 and at home against BYU on Oct. 11
UCF officials met with ESPN in Bristol, Conn., this week to discuss the game and left convinced the network had innovative ideas to promote the contest that will open the Saturday slate of games to start the 2014 season.
“This is an exciting announcement, not only for UCF and Penn State, but for the American Athletic Conference and the Big Ten Conference as well,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “This game reflects the creative scheduling that will energize our conference. The game also serves a larger purpose of providing our student-athletes with a valuable cultural experience while contributing to the growth of college football on the world stage.”