Will Dallas-Fort Worth Stop Being Big 12 Country?
When the Big 12 was formed more than a decade ago, the leaders of the new conference decided that they had no need to include a team from North Texas.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is the most populous region of all the Big 12, with the biggest TV markets.
They also saw no need to include a team from the conference's second-most populous metro area, Houston.
The Big 12 clearly felt that they only needed Texas and Texas A&M. Then hapless Baylor and Texas Tech, who added nothing to the Big 12 markets or any prestige, only obtained membership due to political connections.
For the most part, the Big 12 leaders were correct.
TCU, SMU, Rice, and Houston were very down at the time, and Texas and A&M claimed the support of most casual fans in Texas.
A Change in the Air?
TCU started its climb back to the upper echelon of college football in 1998, with the hiring of Dennis Franchione and his very intense and very young defensive coordinator, Gary Patterson.
The Frogs quickly experienced success, giving top-10 Air Force its only loss of that season and finishing with a win over USC in the Sun Bowl.
With LT and a solid defense, the Frogs soon became a 10-win team and Coach Fran moved onward and upward, at least for a little while.
Under Coach Patterson, the Frogs have garnered nationwide attention with incredible defense.
This season, the Frogs are ranked No. 4 in the country and hosted ESPN College GameDay last Saturday.
For the first time, TCU packed Amon G. Carter with Frog fans, having some 6,000 fans more than the stadium capacity, for a total of 50,037.
Now, TCU has only 24,500 alums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and had 7,000 or so current students at the game. TCU averaged just over 34,000 fans prior to the game, so 15,000 extra people showed up.
A large number of the extra people attending the game were fans and alums from Big 12 schools, many of which had never attended a TCU game before, even though they had lived in the region for years.
Local media, which had largely ignored TCU during the Patterson era, has actually started to support TCU. Area sport radio figures have gone Frog wild in support of the very team they had ignored.
The Fort Worth mayor declared last Friday "Go Purple Day" and asked that everyone wear purple in support of the team. As a result, local DFW TV news personalities wore purple on Friday and one station put a purple background on their broadcast.
People were heard lamenting around the region that they had not bought their tickets sooner, as few people had anticipated a sell-out, let alone an over-capacity crowd. Four hundred recruits, juniors and seniors—some committed to other programs and some multi-sport athletes—attended the game.
An oft-heard remark from first-time attendees was that they had no idea that TCU's football team was so good or that the game experience was so fun. Bandwagon fans have decided to jump on the local team, potentially changing the established pecking order for college football.
DFW's best kept secret is finally out.
SMU On the Rise
Likewise, SMU finally appears to have turned a real corner under coach June Jones.
While nowhere near TCU's level, SMU is carefully trying to follow TCU's lead. The Mustangs are bowl eligible and are in first place in their division of Conference USA. With only two losses in regulation, they are only two overtime losses away from a 8-2 season.
SMU had climbed back into the upper reaches of college football in the late seventies and early eighties, only to fall down to the pits when it received the death penalty from the NCAA, a one-year ban on the football team. They actually did not play for two years, so as to not have a shortened season with only road games.
The re-introduction of football came with vastly increased requirements for recruits, severely limiting the pool of potential players.
The Mustangs remained a bottom-feeder until interested alums ponied up the millions of dollars necessary for rebuilding a team that the school administration did not care about.
While Jones went through some lumps, his efforts appear to be paying off and continued success is anticipated. SMU no longer plays at the Cotton Bowl and now has a much smaller, on-campus stadium, so it will have easier time bringing in fans over the long-term.
While the Ponies are no longer the "best team money could buy," they do look to return to be a regional contender once again.
Impact on the Big 12
Now, the Big 12 moved its offices to DFW a few years ago. The Big 12 will be playing its championship game in DFW.
The Red River Rivalry will be continued to be played at the Texas State Fair at the old Cotton Bowl. Jerry Jones is hosting Big 12 teams at the new Cowboys Stadium for neutral site games.
Local radio stations broadcast the games of every Big 12 South team except Oklahoma State. Local newspapers cover the Big 12 extremely closely.
Could the Big 12's ownership of North Texas actually be threatened? Will many of the six million people in DFW now become Frog and Pony fans? The answers to these questions might actually be yes.
If so, this will have serious consequences for the Big 12.
Of course, TCU and SMU were two of the top programs in college football before World War II. Famously, one contest between the two featured both teams with a No. 1 ranking. Both schools produced numerous All-Americans, national titles, major bowl appearances, and award winners.
In other words, SMU and TCU are two schools that had big-time programs in the past and one has returned to that level and other aspires for the same thing. While Texas, Tech, Baylor, and A&M will continue to have hordes of alums and fans in DFW, TCU has already claimed a huge spot at the table and SMU is trying to grab its own.
Any gains in local support for TCU and SMU will come at the expense of Big 12 teams.
The Threat Is Real
The consequences (reduced revenue for the Big 12, more revenue for SMU and TCU, losing recruits, etc.) are real.
Maybe the Big 12 will start to regret taking Texas Tech and Baylor instead of TCU and SMU back when the Big 12 was formed. But, for TCU at least, time has passed and TCU does not need the Big 12 and has a better route to success, having used the slight to rebuild the program.
So, change is in the air and it looks to be coming at the expense of the Big 12.
Maybe the Big 12 will eventually need to consider moving its headquarters back to Kansas City.
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