BYU has left the building.
What happens next for TCU?
The obvious follow up question is, "Will TCU bolt for CUSA or another conference?"
I see 4 obvious paths forward for TCU:
1) Stay in the Mountain West Conference with it's high travel costs, small TV payouts, and non-existent BCS AQ hopes.
2) Attempt to land affiliation with a BCS AQ conference (The Big East may be a distinct possibility).
3) Drift back to CUSA with their better TV potential, short travel, and teams TCU fans care about.
4) Form a new Southwest Conference.
Staying in the MWC
I firmly believe there is absolutely no reason for TCU to stay in the MWC now.
The Non-BCS Automatic qualifier conference pecking order has likely changed. When the MWC had the two biggest draws in the Non-BCS AQ world they were unquestionably #1. (I track attendance. Over my collection of attendance numbers that last just under a decade, BYU finished 27th out of the 120 schools at the FBS level; Utah was 55th, and Hawaii was 60th. If you can't even finish in the top half of the FBS world in attendance, what kind of claim do you really have of being a program that can fill a BCS Bowl?) The order was...
3) Western Athletic Conference (prior to the loss of Fresno State)
4) Mid-American Conference
5) Sun Belt Conference
BYU leaving the MWC and opting not play in the Non-BCS AQ reindeer games suggests that they could not see any scenario where a non-BCS conference would attain BCS AQ status.
That was the entire basis of the MWC being the top conference in the Non-BCS pecking order. Now the MWC will be known for its horrible TV deal and big travel footprint.
The deadline for MWC departure for this year has passed, so TCU will be in the MWC for one more year, but I would be shocked if they don't announce intentions of leaving within the year.
A combination of high travel costs, bad TV payouts, and no shot at BCS AQ inclusion makes the MWC a stupid home for TCU.
A BCS home
As I have stated a million times over, the addition of TCU makes zero sense for UT and the Big 12 as UT, A&M, Tech, OU, and maybe even OSU each have larger alumni bases living in DFW than TCU. There is no value to be added there, so I don't see it happening.
That said, a BCS home is not out of the question. The nerds of the BCS AQ world, The Big East, could certainly use the credibility TCU football would provide, but the idea of adding TCU as an all-sports member may be too caustic for their 16 team membership. The Big East doesn't harvest big TV money like a BCS AQ conference. For them, like non-BCS AQ conferences, travel costs could actually be noticable.
There is actually a slim chance the SEC might have them on their list of expansion candidates if certain scenarios present themselves.
Does BYU's departure put TCU in play and potentially destabilize CUSA?
Yes and Yes.
Barring an invitation from a BCS conference, the logical home for TCU is Conference USA.
C-USA offers convenient travel and longtime rivals that will increase fan turnout.
TCU almost certainly has the votes of every member of CUSA West if they decide they want to return. SMU doesn't want to be in the same conference as UNT and adding TCU shuts the door on UNT, so you know SMU would be whipping the vote for TCU.
For the commissioner, the smart play is to sell the membership of CUSA on the virtues of a still exclusive 14 team league and add TCU and Charlotte. (Charlotte would ease the travel cost complaints of schools like ECU and Marshall.)
" Hey SMU, if you start a new conference you might be forced to admit schools with small athletic budgets or that hurt your status that you don't really in your heart of hearts want to add like North Texas or Louisiana Tech."
The SWC scenario
If CUSA east fights expansion to 14, it gives rise to the exact long-theorized chain of events that would lead to a new SWC.
In their heart of hearts, the former SWC have nots have all felt from time to time that they probably made a mistake not keeping the SWC together. Fate does seem to be offering them a path to fix that mistake.
CUSA West can walk out on CUSA East, add TCU and satisfy the 5/6/7 rule to qualify for an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. With that berth in hand it would be easy for the new conference to lure in one of many schools as their 8th member.
Realistically, the lowered status of the MWC dramatically increases the options for CUSA West to find a strong 8th member for a new SWC if they should desire to pursue that goal. (The SWC brand is certainly far, far more marketable in Texas than the CUSA brand, but who knows what direction they take.)
I think the University of New Mexico would make a ton of sense as an 8th member. They have always been a pawn in the MWC with no real voice in the proceedings. Leaving that behind and rejoining their main rival UTEP would be appealing.
Being the only New Mexico school in a mostly Texas conference would allow UNM to recruit much better players in football. They are already one of the best basketball home draws in the country (#18 out of the 300+ DI basketball playing members schools over a multi-year sampling).
The new SWC could add schools at that point as they see a need or desire. Memphis, UTSA, Air Force, Colorado State, UAB, and others could be added as future targets as they are needed or as they mature as FBS programs.
The decisions by TCU (likely in the next few months) will do a lot to determine conference memberships at the BCS non-AQ level
I think that can't be overstated.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!