Scratch UCF off list of potential hosts for 2016 football finals

Record-setting AAU volleyball field heads to Orlando while Montverde basketball flies to the Middle East

Bright House Networks Stadium has been the site of raucous UCF football games. Just don't expect the venue to host state high-school finals. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel)

Bright House Networks Stadium has been the site of raucous UCF football games. Just don't expect the venue to host state high-school finals. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel) (June 11, 2014)

UCF hosted high-school teams on its practice fields for the Knights Shootout 7on7 passing tournament last weekend, but forget any thoughts of the actual football state championship games going to UCF.

The school has expressed zero interest in hosting Florida High School Athletic Association championships, including the football finals. UCF football coach George O'Leary told the Sentinel's Chris Hays on Saturday that the problem is that playing eight high-school games over two weekends would ravage the natural-grass field at Bright House Networks Stadium.

The FHSAA finals have been played at Orlando's Citrus Bowl since 2007 (with artificial turf installed in 2010) and will stay on for two more years. But that venue is probably off the table for 2016 and beyond because of conflicts with the newly launched college football Cure Bowl, NCAA women's soccer final-four tournaments for 2016 and 2017, and potential Major League Soccer playoff matches for the Orlando City Lions.

FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing said he and his staff have yet to talk to other potential suitors. There may not be a lot of options.

When the title games were last up for bid, in 2011, only Orlando, St. Petersburg (Tropicana Field) and Miami (Sun Life Stadium and FIU) submitted proposals.

Palm Beach County could make a pitch to bring future finals to FAU's 29,419-seat stadium in Boca Raton. That setting could be perfect, but maybe not in the perfect place.

Attendance was higher when the finals were played in Miami in 2005 and '06, and South Florida football followers say you need to go to their backyard to draw big crowds consistently. However, Dearing said the costs were significantly greater in Miami, and travel time and expenses were a problem for North Florida teams.

"Our goal is a central location for our schools," Dearing said.

Volleyball in volume

The AAU girls volleyball national championship, recognized by Guinness World Records as the sport's largest tournament, will bring 2,100 teams of players ages 10 through 18 to Orlando in the next two weeks. Play will start Tuesday with 157 courts in play at the cavernous Orange County Convention Center and 18 more at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports.

There's a new twist this year with an international division, plus a bonus round. The top eight finishers in the AAU 18 Open division will be matched against the internationals on Friday, June 20. Those crossover matches include a "World Championship" between the U.S. and international winners at 3:30 p.m. at Disney.

The international teams will practice and then scrimmage against 18s AAU teams at the Orlando Sports Center (6700 Kingspointe Pkwy.) on Sunday. Match play will start at 2:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

"The level of play of some of those teams is going to be phenomenal," Orlando Volleyball Academy co-director Sindee Snow said.

Montverde to Middle East

National champion Montverde Academy is one of four high-school basketball powerhouses heading to the United Arab Emirates to play a weeklong tournament against teams from the Middle East and North Africa.

An Eagles squad made up mostly of players from its new prep-school program, which will include fifth-year seniors, is scheduled to make the 14-hour flight Thursday and arrive on Friday for a tournament put on by MPAC Sports, which was founded in Chicago and has developed over 50 basketball academies in the Arabian Peninsula.

Huntington Prep of West Virginia, Chicago Simeon and Lone Peak of Utah are also making the journey for an experience that includes a desert safari in dune buggies.

"It's going to be a great trip for our players and a great opportunity for our school name to get visibility in a country like Dubai, which sends a lot of students to boarding schools in the U.S.," Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said Wednesday.

Montverde played in China two years ago.

The first-time event was orchestrated by MPAC Sports Basketball, a program launched in Chicago and now based in the United Arab Emirates. Former University of Illinois-Chicago player Ebenezer NooNoo moved to the UAB to coach and grow awareness of the sport to an untapped audience in a corner of the world that not long ago had few outlets for organized basketball. 

bcollings@tribune.com. Read Buddy at SentinelVarsity.com and on Twitter at @VarsityBuddy.

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