TCU Basketball Bracing for Horned Frogs' Leap Into Big East
Yes, football will have automatic access to the BCS. The Horned Frogs basketball team, meanwhile, will have to figure out how to survive in what is generally considered the nation's elite basketball league when they open play in 2012-13.
That's an issue third-year TCU coach Jim Christian was still trying wrap his mind around Tuesday.
"It's obviously two years away, which gives us some time," Christian told FanHouse one day after the big announcement on Monday. "But it's an exciting time for us. It's a monumental challenge, but I'm looking forward to it."
"I think we all understand what kind of league (the Big East is) and the history behind it. We have to come in with a calculated plan for men's basketball because it's played at the highest level, and continue to build our program."
The key issue is just how TCU goes about building its program in what will be a 17-team basketball conference that features perennial powers like Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown, UConn and Louisville?
The Horned Frogs haven't been relevant in men's basketball since the late 1990s when a combination of legendary head coach Billy Tubbs and star players Lee Nailon, Malcolm Johnson, Mike Jones and Prince Fowler sparked the program to a top-15 ranking and the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title during the 1997-98 season.
Back then, the landscape at TCU was quite different. As a result of the breakup of the Southwest Conference the school had just moved into the WAC, which was a top-tier league at the time that included 1998 national runner-up Utah, BYU, New Mexico and UNLV. Basketball was emphasized and heavily marketed. It also didn't hurt that the Horned Frogs football program was in shambles.
But once the football program regained its strength in the early years of the 2000s, the basketball program was no longer the focal point of the athletic department and TCU and Tubbs soon parted ways.
The Frogs haven't had success since.
Tubbs, who has since retired from coaching, believes the move could be good for men's basketball if TCU is committed to competing at the highest level of college basketball.
"They've got to retool that whole program," Tubbs said Tuesday. "Other than football, they will have to retool all their sports."
"They are going to have to do a better job of recruiting. They need to improve their basketball facility. You are going to be able to recruit a better player in the Big East because it is an outstanding basketball conference. So the recruitment will go up."
TCU has bounced around from the WAC to the Conference USA and Mountain West since the Tubbs years, but hasn't won any league titles since that 1997-98 campaign that ended with a first-round loss to Florida State in the NCAA tournament. The Frogs have made improvements under Christian as a MWC school, but the program will have to make a quantum leap to have any chance of being competitive in the Big East in two years.
"Our program is growing, but we obviously aren't at the level of those schools," said Christian, who is from New York and has Big East ties as an assistant coach at Pitt. "I think we are competitive, I think we have a chance to be competitive in our league this year. I have my entire roster back this year and we are going to play two more years in this league so I am excited about that.
"When I took this job, I took it to put together a team that can compete in the Mountain West Conference. I knew it couldn't be done overnight and I really envisioned by year three and year four being a team that has really improved and I think we are that. With my entire roster back next year for Mountain West Conference play, I think we are a team that can compete for a conference championship. That's what we set out to do.
"Obviously the news here has changed a lot of the plan, but that does not mean the plan has stopped," he continued. "We have to keep trying to do what we are doing. We have a two-year window to try to gear up to play in the best basketball conference in the country."
It all begins with recruiting and the chance to now compete in the heart of Big 12 country with Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M for the elite players in the state of Texas and around the region.
Christian said Tuesday he had already began hearing from some elite high school players and fully expects to begin being a destination for players looking to transfer from elite schools.
"It opens up some doors, we definitely have a chance to have some conversations," Christian said. People are going to be aware of what we are doing so that's exciting."
Second-year TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, who was an associate athletic director at basketball power Arizona, has said improving facilities such as dated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum will be a priority. A major renovation is already underway to the football stadium.
"That's all part of the discussion," Christian said of the facilities improvement. "It would be different if this was going to happen next year but it's two years away and I think everything has to be looked at. It's such a different league, such a basketball-driven league that we have to look at how we do everything."
In the meantime, Christian is trying to get excited about what could lie ahead for the Horned Frogs.
"This could be a great jumpstart to be honest," he said. "You're put into the fire, but sometimes that can be a good thing."