Commentary

Wedded bliss for Big East, TCU?

Originally Published: November 29, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

TCU and the Big East couldn't have been more fortunate than to have Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of Notre Dame and the president of the league, officiate at the news conference Monday in Fort Worth, Texas. If TCU and the Big East isn't a shotgun marriage, frogs don't have horns.

"With this addition of TCU to the Big East," Jenkins said, "we transcend some geographical boundaries to create really interesting cross-regional competition and we transcend historical contingencies to create possibilities for the future."

[+] EnlargeVictor Boschini
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTCU chancellor Victor J. Boschini Jr. talked about the reasons behind the move.

As the president of Notre Dame surely knows, the appeal of college football is anchored in geography and shared history. It is a regional sport, forged in the competition of neighborhood rivalries that grow heated over time. To say the Big East is "transcending" all that is a linguistic tap dance, a little Chanel Rouge Allure applied just below the snout.

TCU brings neither geography nor shared history to the Big East. And Chris Del Conte, the TCU athletic director who made this move happen, made the case Monday that those criteria are no longer important.

"I did notice that 15 years ago, people expanded conference based on geography," Del Conte said. "Now they're totally based on TV households and how many you bring to the table."

The Dallas-Fort Worth market is the fifth-largest in the nation. It doesn't matter that TCU is not the first choice of most fans in that market. It might be fifth at best, behind Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. It doesn't matter that, if history is any guide, the Horned Frogs' support is 12 wins wide and an inch deep. The Big East, with more than half its members in professional sports markets, has experience selling teams that aren't the main event.

The Big East formed in 1979 with seven regional basketball rivals and now will have 17 members. If the Pac-10 grew at that rate, it would be the Pac-24. Alas, it has gotten only halfway there. Seriously, Big East membership might replace the price of gasoline as the cliched measure of inflation.

We have been here before. The Big East rented Miami in 1991, inviting the Hurricanes into the league to provide instant credibility. Miami won a national championship in its first season in the league, won another in 2001 and hung around long enough to win nine Big East titles in 13 years. But Miami let its eye roam. When the Canes left for the ACC, they took Boston College and Virginia Tech with them.

The Hurricanes also extended the league's footprint, as media consultants, formerly known as conference commissioners and athletic directors, like to say. What began as a cozy cottage of mostly urban Jesuit schools has become an architectural mishmash of state universities, Jesuit schools, a commuter school (USF), a sometimes member (Notre Dame) and, now, TCU.

"I realize that some people will question geography," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said. "Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner of the NFL and one of our consultants, put it best when he said at a recent meeting, 'The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East. TCU and their fans will be right at home in the Big East.' I couldn't agree more."

Hey, it's their wedding day. Let's not point out that Rutgers ain't exactly the New York Giants.

The Big East needs instant credibility again, and that's what TCU's bootprint will bring east, y'all. This will be the Horned Frogs' fifth Football Bowl Subdivision conference (Southwest, WAC, Conference USA, Mountain West) since 1995. The move to the Mountain West appeared as if it would carry TCU back to the land of the automatic qualifiers. Between TCU and Boise State, which joins the league in 2011, the MWC might have generated BCS ratings high enough to earn an automatic bid.

TCU took the sure thing.

"It's a wonderful conference," Del Conte said of the MWC, "but it's not the same conference we joined. You start to look at who you're losing. You lost Utah. You lost BYU. … It's not the same home that we bought. It's not the same home that we were invited into."

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Eric Draper/Getty ImagesGary Patterson built TCU into the best team in Texas.

But what exactly is the Big East buying?

The Big East schools will get recruiting access. The state of Texas oozes FBS players from every pore, yet it hasn't oozed eastward. The conference media guide lists only 13 Texans among the eight preseason rosters. The league's schools can offer Texans two games in Fort Worth over a four-year career.

Of course, TCU will bolster the league's strength of schedule. But merely adding a ninth Big East team, any team, helps. Playing seven conference games means finding five nonconference games, which is about as hard to do as watching "Airplane!" without guffawing (R.I.P., Leslie Nielsen).

It is a credit to the university, and to coach Gary Patterson, that the program has returned to the land of the AQs.

Since the Big 12 left TCU by the roadside in 1996, the university has done nothing but work hard to become relevant again. Under Patterson's leadership, it has become the best team in the state, which is no idle boast.

The Big East is getting the TCU of Patterson, but there is no guarantee the next coach will be a Patterson. He could be Jim Wacker or F.A. Dry or any in a string of coaches who allowed the Big 12 to leave TCU behind and not lose any sleep over it.

So throw rice at the happy couple, and don't mention all the marriages in their past. Each party has what the other needs for now. Neither side seems to be all that interested in long-term happiness.

"I don't think there's any guarantee in life," Del Conte said. "… We've been a little bit nomadic, but at the end of the day, every move we have made has been strategic in the idea that we'll try to solidify our program and find a place that will give us an opportunity to win championships."

Sportswriting legend Dan Jenkins, a Fort Worth native and a TCU alum, remains the Horned Frogs' unofficial First Fan. He is delighted the Frogs will play east instead of west.

"Mainly, I like the time zone," Jenkins said in an e-mail. "America will have a chance to know who we played and the result."

And he feels pretty good about the results to come, too.

"We should keep winning football games," Jenkins said, "but we're not likely to win a basketball game the rest of my lifetime."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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