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Endangered conferences float mergers in the name of self-preservation

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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In the wake of Pitt and Syracuse leaving the Big East for the ACC and both Texas and Oklahoma officially setting a course to the Pac-12, the Big 12 and Big East could be looking at a possible merger.

The Associated Press is reporting that officials from both conferences have been discussing a possible merger if Oklahoma and Texas leave the Big 12, soon to be followed by Big 12 mates Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. They're not the only leagues with that bright idea: Conference USA and the Mountain West are thinking about joining forces, as well, per Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

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The move could be interesting for TCU, which has remained noncommittal about its conference future. The Horned Frogs are scheduled to join the Big East next year — their their fourth different conference home since the demise of the Southwest Conference in the mid-nineties — but in an emailed statement, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte says he's going to do what's best for the school.

"Thanks to the efforts of a great Chancellor, a terrific Board of Trustees and an unbelievable football coach in Gary Patterson, TCU has never been positioned better on the collegiate athletics landscape. Coming off a Rose Bowl championship and with a new football stadium in place, TCU has tremendous momentum. We are actively engaged in conversations with colleagues across the country to protect TCU's best interests."

Those conversations include a possible return to the Mountain West, the conference in which the Horned Frogs are currently playing their last season. Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said he's spoken with TCU and that discussions to bring the Horned Frogs back into the fold are underway.

"I have had a lot of conversations with TCU through this process. Specifically inviting them back to the league is not my position," Thompson told the Idaho Statesman. "But it is being strongly considered and would probably — probably emphasized — be endorsed by the Mountain West Board of Directors."{YSP:MORE}

Thompson said he's also spoken with C-USA about a possible football-only merger and he's been offering a soft landing spot to those teams in the Big 12 and Big East potentially displaced because of all the conference upheaval.

TCU's role in the expansion is interesting because it could be the lynchpin for both a Big12-Big East superconference and whatever form the Mountain West takes in terms of gaining BCS automatic qualification, television and money.

TCU staying could help the Mountain West earn the BCS automatic qualification for which it has been striving. Similarly, the Big East is looking at losing its AQ status with the loss of Syracuse and Pitt and potential of losing a couple other teams as well. Is the future of the Big East so tenuous that TCU, which has sunk millions into a stadium expansion project to make itself a more attractive BCS commodity, would be willing to forgo joining a conference with an automatic bid to stay with one that doesn't have one?

Probably not — if the Big East can broker a deal with the Big 12 and keep a healthy level of competitiveness.

TCU's situation will be one to watch. The Horned Frogs, who have been to BCS games each of the past two seasons and put themselves in a position to do what Utah did this year and move up to an automatic bid conference, might have to take a different road to sit at the big boy table.

And if TCU does retreat back to the Mountain West and the Big East can't broker a deal with the Big 12, where does that leave the Big East?

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