TCU’s Big East move a winner

Fort Worth, Texas, isn’t in the East, which makes TCU’s entry Monday into the Big East (effective for the 2012 season) sound clunky. Fort Worth isn’t in the West either. And it is home to no mountains. So its previous membership as the only Central time zone school in the Mountain West Conference didn’t make sense either.

In pragmatic terms TCU to the Big East is a win-win.

The Big East gets the Horned Frogs’ strong football program (currently third in the BCS standings), a foothold to a major television market (there’s still way more Longhorn than Frog fans, but it’s something) and entry into one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting territories.

TCU coach Gary Patterson has to be elated about joining the Big East, with its automatic BCS bid.
(Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire)

In turn, the league should help TCU get even stronger by offering coach Gary Patterson a BCS conference calling card to use on the recruiting trail. In one quick move Monday – first reported by Brett McMurphy of Fanhouse – TCU eliminated its top negative with recruits: its position outside of the BCS cartel.

The marriage is one of convenience, of course. The Big East’s roots are in the Northeast corridor and there isn’t a league member anywhere near Texas. For its part, TCU would prefer to be in the Big 12.

That’s college athletics these days, though. Nothing makes much sense. As long as the sport allows an outside entity (bowl games) to operate and profit from its postseason, bizarre things will keep happening. It’s a scramble for survival.

The boldest move the Big East could make now would be to throw all geographic sense into the air and invite Boise State as a football-only member.

It’s not going to happen, but what the heck, right? If everything is a long flight, why not take one a little longer and add the best available television property – quite incredibly Boise State has a national following that exceeds many major conference programs. Everyone will crack jokes about South Florida and Boise being in the same league – hey, it’s only a 38-hour, 13-minute drive according to Yahoo! Maps. Give or take traffic in Cheyenne, of course.

The Big East has stated it wants to get to 10 football teams. TCU gives it nine – and a whopping 17 in hoops (a headache-inducing number). Villanova, which is a full member in all other sports, has the option of moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. If the Wildcats decide to stay in the Football Championship Subdivision, then Central Florida is probably next in line. Memphis, despite its moribund football program, wouldn’t be a bad alternative.

So sorry to the blue turf now left behind in a Mountain West without Utah, BYU or TCU, but no way the league gets so far down the list it casts its eyes all the way to Idaho.

For TCU this is a great day and one that came about through old-fashioned hard work, investment and commitment to success. There are no handouts here, no invitations for political reasons. They earned this.

In 1997 TCU was near the bottom of the barrel in college football – left behind by the Big 12 and sporting a team so bad, the few fans it had stormed the field when a victory in the season finale allowed the Frogs to avoid a winless season.

It hired Dennis Franchione the following year and in 2001 promoted Gary Patterson, its defensive coordinator. Patterson grew up working in his family’s humble business – leveling farm land in rural Kansas. He saw TCU as just another long, difficult and rewarding task.

Gary Patterson will be able to sell TCU even more now that his Horned Frogs will be in a Big Six conference starting in 2012.
(Matthew Emmons / US Presswire)

Now the Frogs have completed a second consecutive perfect regular season, may be headed for the Rose Bowl (or even the BCS title game) and are already working on a $100-million-plus renovation that promises to turn aging Amon G. Carter Stadium into the “Camden Yards of college football.”

TCU in a BCS conference is actually a significant moment for all of college football. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is one of the three most fertile recruiting markets in the country – behind Los Angeles and South Florida. It hasn’t had a true major program in decades, which has allowed schools from across the country, and particularly the Big 12, to swoop in and land great recruits.

Patterson has built the program by finding underrated prospects and helping turn them into NFL players – this is LaDainian Tomlinson’s alma mater. There is so much local talent that there have been years, Patterson said, where he signed an entire recruiting class by spending less than five nights on the road.

Now he doesn’t have to apologize for conference membership. No, the Big East isn’t the Big 12, but it gets great exposure on ESPN, it has automatic access to the BCS and it will deliver more money to the school – not that its rich boosters weren’t supporting things fine.

TCU isn’t going to start besting Texas and Oklahoma for all the five-star recruits in the area. It should help the Frogs beat the rest of the Big 12 for some of the many good high school players in the area. Three, four, five or more recruiting victories a year can add up. TCU in the Big East doesn’t help the middle and bottom of the Big 12.

And who knows, when the next round of conference realignment happens, maybe TCU is desirable to the Big 12 or even a supersized SEC, which would love entry into the Texas media and recruiting markets.

Patterson is a brilliant coach and motivator and at 50 is in his prime. While he’s never ruled out taking another job, his wife is a Fort Worth native, he’s a local hero and he’s turned down chances to leave. He long ago believed in the potential of TCU and the local talent base. This ought to keep him in place for the long haul.

“What we want to be like is the USC or the Miami of Texas,” Patterson told me last month. “We’re the private school, you get a great education. You can play here.”

On Monday, TCU took another step in that direction – this time far to the East.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Nov 29, 2010