TCU's Hop to the Big East: What Does (and Could) It Mean for Both Parties?
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The Big East has been abuzz since it was announced that Texas Christian University's Horned Frogs would be added to the conference in all sports.
For the most part the buzz has been positive. Many say any move is a good move for the fledgling Big East Conference. Others seem to think the Horned Frogs are a golden egg in college football.
Since 2000, TCU has posted eight 10-or-more win seasons, three of which have come in the last three years (11-2 in 2008, 12-0 in 2009, 12-0 in 2010.) Let's face it, no one in the Big East can boast a similar resume so far this millennium.
There's certainly nothing wrong with striking while the iron's hot ... let's just hope it stays hot. To date, the Horned Frogs' highest feat has been winning a national championship ... in 1938.
From 1939 to 1997, TCU’s record was 318-380-24 (that's 318 wins out of 722 games played, a total of 44 percent). In the span of 67 years, the Horned Frogs won five conference titles and attended 11 bowl games, winning only one.
Fast-forward to 1998 and Dennis Franchione. Coach Fran walked onto the TCU campus only a six-year head coach, having left the New Mexico Lobos after giving them their first bowl berth in 37 years.
Franchione took the Horned Frogs from a 1-10 season the year before to 7-5 and a shot at a long-awaited postseason victory. The Horned Frogs defeated the Trojans of USC and set the record for least rushing yards allowed in a bowl game.
Did the Big East make the right move by adding TCU?
Thus begins the revitalization of Texas Christian University football.
There have been highs and lows since that spirited '97 season, but it's been mostly highs and climbing. TCU defensive coordinator Gary Patterson stepped in as head coach in 2000 after Franchione moved on to rebuild yet another fledgling franchise at Alabama (from there it was on to Texas A&M, with less-than-stellar results.) Patterson took what Franchione had started and ran with it.
In his decade as head coach, Patterson has led the Horned Frogs to a record of 97–28, a Conference USA title and three Mountain West conference titles.
The proverbial "iron" is most definitely hot.
So what are the cons to bringing this obviously talented, consecutively ranked, phoenix-metaphor-personified team to the Big East?
Well, there are a few.
1) The most obvious one is a geographical one: travel.
Adding TCU now requires that each of the Big East teams, half of which lie above the Mason-Dixon line, travel to Texas at least once a year.
The Big East is used to traveling great distances for non-conference games, but they have the luxury of doing it once, maybe twice a year per team. TCU is now required to travel, sometimes halfway across the country, no less than four times a year. Their nearest conference rival will be the Cardinals of Louisville, KY at 870 miles; their farthest will be Rutgers of New Brunswick, NJ at 1,559 miles.
Granted most football programs travel by plane these days, but travel is travel, and it costs money. The hope is that adding a Top 5 finisher to the Big East roster will allow for more national broadcast coverage for the conference, which of course means more revenue. Still, shouldering the extra costs is a big thing to ask of nine universities.
2) The biggest con is the often loved, but more-often hated term "strength of schedule."
From 1923-1996 (during its most dismal years) TCU played in the Southwest Conference. Their conference counterparts consisted of Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Baylor and Arkansas, among others. When the SWC broke up at the end of the 1995 season, TCU's seat at the big kid's table was revoked ... and their success began.
Their conference titles and rise to glory have come in the WAC, CUSA and the MWC, and against such adversaries as UTEP, Memphis, Stephen F. Austin, New Mexico and Colorado State. Their current conference, the Mountain West, boasts only one other Top 25 team this season in Utah, whom TCU defeated.
The point in all this is to say that, despite a decade of winning seasons, TCU's "strength of schedule" has been ... well, weak. Of course if the Big East teams continue on their current path, TCU may not find much more opposition when it arrives. That being said, the challenge TCU faces is continuing its success. Stronger programs than theirs have failed to do so.
But do the pros outweigh the cons? By a not-so-small but not-so-big margin, yes.
In a season that may very well see the Big East sending an unranked UConn team that lost to 7-5 Michigan, 6-6 Louisville and 4-7 Rutgers to a BCS bowl, adding the Horned Frogs certainly can't hurt.
But what does TCU gain in all of this?
The anything-but-flawless BCS will most likely leave at least two Top 10 teams out of BCS bowl games this season. I'd say TCU's biggest draw to the Big East is the allure of an automatic BCS bid. Should their success continue and TCU manage to win a few BCS bowls while carrying the flag of the Big East Conference, don't be surprised to see the Big 10 or the SEC come knocking at our door, asking if TCU can come and play in their yard.
Unless TCU's winning spirit infects the rest of the conference, and barring the fizzling out of their flash-in-the-pan success, the Big East may end up no more than a launching pad for a football powerhouse.
In a perfect world, TCU will show up still white-hot, challenge the rest of the Big East to step it up and create spirited rivalries half-the-nation away; the Big East will find untapped recruiting potential in the talent-rich high schools of Texas; the conference will become the hard-nosed, multi-Top 25, constant BCS contender we all know it can, and should, be.
It may be a lot to ask ... but let's hope for a perfect world.
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