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TCU's arrival breathes life into Big East

By Jack Bogaczyk

To paraphrase on a historic analogy, the impending marriage of Texas Christian University and the Big East is one giant leap for the conference's football respectability.

It is, however, just one small step among those the Big East needs to make if it is to lift itself from the basement of Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifiers.

Maybe, just maybe, the Monday announcement of TCU's 2012-13 arrival as a league foe for West Virginia and Co. is the first move in the Big East finally "getting it." In major college athletics, football is the cash cow, not basketball. Has been for some time.

Yes, a 17-member basketball conference is a bit unwieldy. The footballers have been clamoring for a ninth member for more than a few years. TCU is that, but the Big East shouldn't stop there.

It needs to get to 10 and then 12 football members sooner than later. It needs to tell Notre Dame to get in or get out. If the Big East wants to keep two or three of the top hoops members (Villanova, Georgetown, etc.) with the football players, sounds good to me.

Somehow, some way, a football-forged breakaway is what the Big East (or whatever the conference might be called) ultimately needs.

The Horned Frogs bring the Big East more than instant credibility in football, where the alma mater of Sammy Baugh and LaDainian Tomlinson is headed for its eighth finish in the AP Top 25 in the last 11 years.

TCU, in the Dallas-Fort Worth market (No. 5 by Nielsen), will help the conference enhance its telecast dollars when the football deal is up after the 2013 season (a six-year, $80 million deal with ESPN is paltry compared to its BCS peers).

The Fort Worth school's presence could open more recruiting doors to other Big Easters in the vast Lone Star State. That's no small consideration.

The decision - BCS-busting TCU wasn't moving from the Mountain West for a football-only Big East invite - also shows the Rhode Island-rooted conference was strong enough to take a proactive, aggressive step (geography be damned), and not wait until it was raided again by another league before beefing up.

TCU also brings its BCS "record" to the Big East, and that's huge.

Just when - thanks to a mediocre-at-best 2010 season - it seemed the conference would be down in the 2008-11 evaluation period for retaining a BCS automatic spot after 2013, it adds the Horned Frogs' numbers for that period.

That's considerable. TCU has finished 11th and 4th in the 2008 and '09 BCS standings and it currently sits in 3rd place. The Frogs will play in the Rose Bowl or BCS National Championship Game (if Auburn or Oregon loses this Saturday).

There's also the addition by subtraction that will provide some "separation" for the Big East. It didn't just add a quality football team, but it deleted a power from the Mountain West, which a year ago seemed primed to grab a seventh seat (or replace the Big East) at the BCS table.

TCU joins Utah and BYU in exiting "the Mountain," which has added Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State from the WAC ... with Hawaii apparently on the way, too. The Mountain West loses TCU and Utah's recent BCS data for evaluation purposes.

TCU's decision also means the Big 12, down two members after losing Nebraska and Colorado, won't be going to Fort Worth if it wants to add to its current Longhorn-led 10.

There's another potential sidebar to this, too.

Maybe with the Horned Frogs in the family, the Big East football folks won't have to include independent Notre Dame into bowl contracts to arm-twist a deal ... deals that could cost "real" Big East teams a Champs Sports Bowl spot as soon as four weeks from now.

TCU is accustomed to these changes of address. The Big East will be the Frogs' fifth (lily) pad since 1994-95, when the Southwest Conference fractured (and TCU wasn't invited into the Big 12).

TCU bounced to the WAC for five years, then was in Conference USA from 2001-04 before heading to the Mountain West in 2005 (not long after Louisville, Cincinnati, etc. left C-USA for the Big East, and Marshall and five others took C-USA to 12 schools. UTEP was a late replacement for the Frogs.)

TCU's bottom line will be enhanced with Big East membership, after the Horned Frogs are weaned from paying their entry fee. The Fort Worth school already is a major spender in football, compared to the group it is joining.

According to federal filings for the 2009-10 fiscal year, TCU's football expenses were $20.6 million. That's more than any Big East football member spent (Rutgers was tops at $19.5 million), and $6.3 million more than West Virginia's football expenses.

In the Big East, only WVU ($29.5 million) and Pitt ($22.5 million) had more football revenue than TCU's $20.6 million.

Villanova has a so-called standing invitation to also become a Big East football player, and could become the 10th team the conference approved in search mode last month. However, the message I'm getting from multiple sources who should know is that the Wildcats aren't quite yet sold on lifting their FCS playoff program to the big time.

A decision from the Philadelphia school is expected by the spring. If it's not the Wildcats, then the Big East moves on to other potential candidates, with UCF the most likely top target.

As for the impact on Big East men's basketball, well, the TCU move won't register on the seismograph in places like Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova and Connecticut. The 18-game regular-season schedule will remain with a slight tweak.

The 17 teams will play every other conference foe, and two of those a second time (rather than the current three). In WVU translation, that means rival Pitt and one other Mountaineer conference opponent will be home-and-home annually.

Then, this move wasn't about hoops at all. For the Big East in football, getting TCU was a good start toward avoiding the ICU of the BCS.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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