Jamie Dixon, Pitt Basketball Coach, Put TCU's Leap to Big East in Motion
In mid-September, Dixon, the Pittsburgh basketball coach, attended a football game between his alma mater, TCU, and Baylor while on a recruiting trip. He chatted with del Conte, TCU's athletic director and an old friend, and suggested that he look into his school switching conference affiliations.
Two-and-a-half months later, TCU, whose football team is unbeaten and ranked third in the country, signed up to a member of the Big East, creating, Dixon said, "a win-win for both TCU and the Big East.''
And it really did happen the way del Conte described it to reporters Monday. "We tossed things around,'' Dixon said Monday night, "and I said, 'Hey, why don't you join the Big East conference?' He looked at me like I'm crazy at first. But that's kind of how it got started, people reaching out to different people.''
Dixon added that when he first spoke to officials in the league office about the idea soon afterward, "they certainly hadn't thought of it.'' The Big East was, of course, looking to add two more football programs, but it had not looked in the direction of TCU, or the state of Texas, period.
The duo's ties go back to when Dixon was an assistant coach at UC-Santa Barbara in the 1991-92 season, where he also received his masters; del Conte is a UCSB alumnus. Both are natives of southern California. Dixon was a second-team all-Southwest Conference guard at TCU in 1986-87 and is still fifth all-time in career assists at the school.
Dixon said he had not planned to pitch the switch to the Big East to del Conte, but that it just came up in conversation. "He said it was the first thought of it he'd had,'' he said. The biggest argument against it, Dixon added, was the location, but he does not see that as a factor, with trips to the East Coast and all the major markets replacing longer, less-convenient and smaller-market trips to the likes of Boise, Fresno and Honolulu.
And he did not believe that designing an 18-game league basketball schedule for a 17-team league would be an impediment. "Yes, it's not a round number, but it actually balances it out. We'll be playing more of a balanced schedule ... It's do-able,'' Dixon said, pointing out how one set of home-and-homes could be removed, and one extra game added in the first round of the conference tournament.
As for the argument that the pursuit of football will weaken a historically-strong basketball conference, Dixon -- whose school is one of the eight in the Big East currently playing FBS football -- said: "At the end of the day, we strengthened ourselves. You can strengthen football without weakening basketball. We have to have that happen. They work hand-in-hand. If one falls behind, the other is going to fall behind, too.''