TCU to Big East, as MWC Not 'Same Home' Without Utah, BYU
"It was a wonderful conference, but it's not the same conference we joined," he said about the Mountain West during a press conference Monday. "Losing BYU and Utah was a significant blow to the conference. It's not the same home we bought. It's not the same home we were invited into."
The Horned Frogs will be an official Big East member in all sports on July 1, 2012.
Del Conte said talks about moving to the Big East started with Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, a TCU alum who was in Fort Worth when the Frogs played Baylor on Sept. 18. He and Del Conte started talking about what it would be like for TCU to be in the Big East and things were set in motion.
Rumors had been rampant that TCU had been extended an invitation, but the final decision didn't come down until Monday morning when the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make the move in all sports.
"Having BCS automatic-qualifying status was a priority for our football program and a great reward for the success we've had the last decade under Gary Patterson," Del Conte said. "Keeping all our sports together was also critical. We are very excited to accomplish both these goals and look forward to our new home in the Big East Conference."
The move will greatly increase TCU's overall revenue. The 2010-11 BCS revenue estimates have each automatic qualifying team receiving about $21.2 million per year while the non-AQ conferences have to split a similar amount. Television revenue, depending on the Big East's new TV contract, could generate 10 times what TCU was earning in the Mountain West.
The move also helps TCU in recruiting, especially in basketball, a sport it has struggled in recently.
"If you're a student-athlete in the state of Texas and you play basketball and you want to go to the very best basketball (conference) in the country, you don't have to leave the state, you can come right here," Del Conte said. "It's phenomenal across the board. Athletically, what our football program brings is the same thing. Everyone's going to have to pick up their game. We are stepping into a conference that's well established across the board. If you're afraid of competition, this is not the place to be. And I'm pretty excited about the whole opportunity."
While there was excitement throughout the TCU athletic department, there also were some mixed feelings. Patterson, the football coach, said the move to the Big East is the right one for his program, especially with an automatic bid to the BCS, but it's hard leaving a conference where his team has made its name and carved its niche.
"It was a very hard decision and that's how I've felt any time anyone's ever brought it up to me just because of the relationships and everything else that's been part of it," Patterson said. "The problem is that the league's not what it was before and it's a chance for an automatic qualifying berth. And there's a list of things that have to do with going to the Big East.
"If you talk to anybody, once they got over the emotion part of it, 'Would you go if you were asked?' The answer would be yes."
Under Mountain West Conference bylaws, TCU will not have to pay an exit fee. It just had to give a year's notice. The same stipulations applied to Utah, which is moving to the Pac-12, and BYU, which is going Independent.
The Mountain West, which in the summer had added Boise State and was looking toward becoming an automatic qualifying conference, has now lost its three top teams and is a shell of its former self.
BYU and Utah will take their BCS credentials with them to their new conferences, which means that the Mountain West will lose the BCS bowl games amassed by Utah and the BCS rankings BYU and Utah have achieved since 2008. Since TCU does not join the Big East until the 2012 season, all of its data through 2011 stays with the Mountain West, including two BCS bowl berths.
With TCU moving, the Mountain West also loses the No. 5 television market in the country, according to Nielsen statistics. Salt Lake City is the No. 31 market. Now, the Mountain West's best television market is Las Vegas (UNLV) at No. 42.
Boise State, which comes into the Mountain West in July, will join after Utah and BYU are gone and get just one year with the Horned Frogs. Fresno State, Nevada and perhaps even Hawaii join in 2012, making the Mountain West a glorified version of the WAC. The Mountain West said in a statement Monday that it is in the process of talking to potential members, but declined specifics. With the WAC decimated, Conference USA teams such as Houston and SMU would probably get the next looks.
While it looks bleak, the coaches heading into the conference knew there was a risk of teams being promoted and they still consider a move to the Mountain West a better situation.
"We're still in a better place," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "Everybody's fighting to better themselves and we bettered ourselves. I'm really happy about where we're headed. We don't get to go for another year, but I feel good about the decision that was made to do that.
"You don't move if you're going backwards."