TCU Brings Texas-Sized Concerns to Reshaped Big East
Culturally, TCU is an odd fit for the still very eastern Big East. Sure, South Florida is a member, but adding TCU makes for just two warm-weather schools out of a 17-school collaboration. The obvious reason for TCU's inclusion, hardly avoided at the press conference, was TCU's presence in the No. 5 Dallas/Ft. Worth television market. "In years past it (conference association) used to be for geography. Now it is for TV markets," admitted Del Conte.
Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins put a slightly different spin on the topic, saying that where conferences tended to be shaped by geography, they now "transcend geographical boundaries" and historical contingencies, whatever that means. Regardless, the big picture he tried to paint was of a unique athletic and academic partnership that can stand tall in the increasingly condensed world of intercollegiate athletics. Added Big East commissioner John Marinatto, "We are the largest family in intercollegiate athletics."
This summer's near-colossal roulette game of conference shakeups arguably threatened the Big East's legitimacy as a football conference. If the Pac-10 had been able to scoop up Texas and move to a 16-school alignment, the Big Ten might have followed, potentially snagging Rutgers and Notre Dame from the Big East with the SEC likely following course with its own expansion grabs.
That never materialized, but the threat remains.
Enter TCU. The Horned Frogs will join the Big East as "full members," able to participate in football and all other sports. That moves the conference membership up to 17 schools, although just nine in football. Villanova could join in football and boost membership to 10 schools but would have to move up to the FBS from the FCS to harmonize the relationship.
The Big East's football coaches were mostly unaware of the news during their weekly teleconference Monday, but seemed positive when pressed to comment. "It would be great," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "Their head coach is an outstanding person, plus it's a great university. They can come into our conference and be welcome."
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones hadn't given the move much thought, deferring to the wisdom of conference management. "There's great leadership in the Big East Conference. After our meetings in Florida and Newport (earlier in the year), I knew we had great direction. It's just comforting to know they have a great vision about where they want to take the conference."
Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt also hesitated to comment, but made a good point about where adding TCU could benefit the football schools. "It has to be a real nightmare for our athletic directors trying to schedule five (non-conference) games every year. It will help in that way," he said. He added, "Depending on what happens down the road, the possibility of a conference playoff like these other conferences could be discussed."
One financial concern will likely center around travel, a topic mostly glossed over during the celebratory news conference. Costs are certainly going to rise to accomplish the various plane rides necessary to get to and from Fort Worth. The larger sports like football and basketball make enough money to afford the expense, but it could strain the smaller sports. Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano shrugged off a question about the hassle associated with travel. "It's a little different if you go tip to tip, like to L.A. but I don't think there is a big difference. You gotta get ready to play (regardless of where you are going)," he noted.
Another financial concern is how do the various schools divide the revenue pie?
They're gambling that TCU can add enough value to an upcoming television deal to offset the various costs, known and unintended. With the Pac-10 likely to commandeer an increased deal of its own and the Big 12 having recently upped its take, eventually the money being distributed to the conferences could dissipate. The Big East is definitely in a race to secure a worthy price ahead of any possible re-evaluation.
With one extra mouth to feed, the additional revenues will have to rise significantly.
In the meantime, Del Conte seems like a shrewd face to add to the mix of Big East athletic directors. During TCU's season finale against New Mexico on Saturday, without tipping his hand, he sounded not like an insurgent but a member of the elite. Discussing TCU's rise, he kept pointing to the school's worst-case scenario of playing in the Rose Bowl and called the endless BCS vs. non-BCS sniping an "unintended consequence" of how the sport has been arranged.
This, arguably before he knew whether TCU's board of trustees would vote in favor of the move to join the Big East. It was very much the talk of a big-conference athletic director. He'll fit right in.
Monday's press conference lifted the small-conference-banner-carrying burdens from his shoulders, and he let loose the following: "This is the Big East guys. This is a phenomenal conference, athletically and academically. We're in a fortunate position to be a part of this."