Threatened by possible further Big Ten expansion and with its football fortunes sagging, the Big East moved to strengthen its chances for survival as a BCS conference with the addition of Texas Christian University, commissioner John Marinatto announced Monday at a news conference in Fort Worth. TCU will join in all sports for the 2012-13 academic year beginning on July 1, 2012.
The addition of TCU gives the Big East nine BCS football schools and 17 members overall, permitting a balanced football schedule and the expansion of its inventory of conference games for the league television package. By establishing a foothold in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the fifth-largest media market in the country, the Big East TV market will reach 25 million U.S. households covering more than 25 percent of the country.
For TCU, ranked third in the BCS standings with a 12-0 record, the move from the Mountain West Conference means increased exposure and membership in a league with an automatic qualifying berth for a BCS bowl game.
Although Big East expansion has taken a jarring turn in a geographic and cultural sense, Marinatto said, "When the Big East looked to expand, we sought to add a member who would bring significant value, a member that would make us not only bigger but stronger and more competitive.
"Clearly, the tremendously successful TCU football team adds enormous strength to the Big East roster . . . Our league will now be playing football in the Northeast, the Midwest, Florida and Texas. No other conference can claim such representation.''
Quoting former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a Georgetown alumnus who serves as a consultant for the Big East, Marinatto said, "[Tagliabue] said at a recent meeting, 'The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East. TCU and their fans will be right at home in the Big East.' I couldn't agree more.''
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said it was critical that his athletic program be admitted to the Big East in all sports. After a study of travel in the Big East compared to the Mountain West, Del Conte declared the difference was no more than an average of about 100 miles per trip. Prior to joining the Mountain West in 2005, TCU was a member of Conference USA (2001-04) and the Western Athletic Conference (1996-2000), both of which required far-flung travel.
Because the Mountain West is losing Utah to the Pac-10 and Brigham Young is going independent, Del Conte said it wasn't the same conference TCU joined. Without an automatic BCS bid, TCU has to be perfect, which it has been the past two regular seasons under football coach Gary Patterson.
TCU was 12-0 last season before losing to undefeated Boise State, another non-automatic qualifier, in the Fiesta Bowl. This season, the Horned Frogs are assured of at least a Rose Bowl berth and could play for the national title if No. 1 Auburn loses the SEC title game to South Carolina or if No. 2 Oregon loses its final game at Oregon State.
By joining the Big East, TCU simply has to win the league title to get a BCS bid. "The BCS doesn't define TCU,'' Del Conte said. "TCU defines the BCS.''
TCU's basketball program historically has been weak and certainly would be rated near the bottom of the Big East. But Del Conte suggested top players in Texas now can go to TCU for the opportunity to meet the best competition in the Big East.
"At this time, we looked at the landscape,'' Del Conte said, "and we decided our best option was to go to the Big East.''