TCU makes its big break for the Big 12, and the Big East moves a little closer to the ledge

Oh, hey Big East, come on in. Have a seat. Coffee? No? We'll get right to the point then: You remember that whole thing where the defending Rose Bowl champion joins your conference next year? Yeah, it looks like that's not going to happen:

Leaders of the Big 12 Conference cleared the way Thursday to add TCU, a move that would bring in a rising program and potentially shore up a league that seemed ready to fall apart just a few weeks ago.

The Big 12's presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to authorize negotiations with the Horned Frogs, who play in Fort Worth, Texas, and boast the defending Rose Bowl champion. [...]

"These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU," [TCU chancellor Victor] Boschini said. "It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for years. As always, we must consider what's best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12."

It think it's safe to say we've moved beyond "discussions": Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has already issued a statement (Thursday morning) welcoming the Frogs (back) to the family. Pete Thamel of the New York Times reports that TCU has scheduled a meeting of its board of regents to formalize the move as quickly as possible, and Big East administrators broke the news to their members Thursday morning in an email.

Thus do the Horned Frogs arrive full circle, on the cusp of regaining the status they claimed for three-quarters of a century in the old Southwest Conference — before they were exiled to a vagabond existence in three different, second-class leagues (the WAC, Conference USA and the Mountain West) after the SWC dissolved and the newly formed Big 12 left TCU in the wilderness in 1994. Including their agreement with the Big East and the dramatic cleaving of the ill-conceived, 16-team WAC into two conferences in 1998, the defection to the Big 12 will be the Frogs' sixth transition to a new conference in 16 years, all of them spent with their blood-spurting faces pressed against the glass.

But there's no time for nostalgia: What happens next?{YSP:MORE} With the Big 12's ranks now slightly more solidified at 10 members, the ball is back in Missouri's court, where the Tigers' decision may have just gotten a little tougher. Mizzou was the lone holdout when the rest of the conference was scrambling to declare solidarity two weeks ago, after the Pac-12 rejected overtures from Oklahoma and Texas. Already, the Missouri Board of Curators has authorized the president to negotiate for a new conference — read: the SEC — and a university official confirmed Wednesday that the Tigers will pretty much take whatever they can get to escape the dysfunctional union of the Big 12. Their remaining colleagues have more or less told them not to let the door hit them on the way out.

With a 10th school on board to replace Texas A&M, though, and Missouri's ongoing waggle dance with the SEC reportedly running into some obstacles from a few SEC presidents and chancellors, the conclusion may not be so foregone. Certainly the dominoes can still fall any number of ways, some of which we probably can't even imagine from the outside. If Missouri stays, does the Big 12 hold firm at 10? Or does it make a play for, say, BYU and Louisville to get back to an even dozen? If Missouri goes, does the conference simply call up another replacement? Or could it forge ahead with nine? Are there even enough plausible candidates to get back to 12 without Mizzou?

If the answer is "yes," it's almost certainly the result of another, less-geographically obvious raid on the Big East, which is already hanging on to its status as a major football conference like grim death. Flagship members Syracuse and Pittsburgh are already out, en route to the ACC at an unspecified point in the very near future; the Big East's only proactive addition, TCU, has been easily intercepted by a stronger league. UConn is actively lobbying to join the ACC. The only schools actively lobbying to join the Big East are East Carolina and Temple, the same Temple that got the boot from the conference less than 10 years ago for all-purpose futility.

That's the state of the Big East: Its oldest relationships are crumbling, its newest relationships are getting picked off before they can begin and its worst relationships are suddenly not looking so bad. One more brick — Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia — and that tower is on its way down.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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