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Wagons East: My thoughts on TCU's impending move to the Big East Conference

The rumor that has lingered in the air for months like a stale fart at a dinner party is now no longer a rumor, TCU will officially join the Big East in all sports on July 1st, 2012.  As TCU's Athletic Director, Chris Del Conte, stated in today's press conference this is a move that has pros as well as cons, but when added up the pros win by a landslide.  It's a shame that we have to leave the MWC because it has been a great conference home for the Frogs on almost every level. However with the recent and unexpected departures of BYU and Utah in the past months this is not the conference we signed up for when we joined in 2005, and although the additions of Boise, Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii are all well and good they just don't carry the same cachet as Utah and BYU, with whom we'd formed some pretty healthy rivalries. 

I hope there are no hard feelings regarding our departure, but if there are may I be quick to remind you that the original 8 founding members of the MWC deserted the Frogs in 1999 when we were all together in the WAC, so turnabout is fair play and it's nothing personal, just business.  Make no mistake our departure is not just about losing BYU and Utah, it is about what the Big East can give the Frogs that the MWC won't be able to, a BCS AQ bid and substantially increased revenues and exposure.  This move is one that has many layers, so follow along as I explore all the different aspects to this impending move for the Frogs.  

AQ Bid
Getting an automatic BCS bid has been our search for the holy grail the past 5 years, and the MWC appeared to be within striking distance this summer as many people assumed that the addition of Boise State would be enough to get us there, and then the dominos started to fall. Texas A&M threw a massive wrench in the Pac 10's conquest into Texas and Oklahoma, and after that failed the Pac10 went back to the drawing board and quickly scooped up Colorado and Utah.  That caused BYU to get butthurt and jealous of arch-rival Utah and they took their ball and went home, and that's how we got to where we are today.  So basically this is all A&M's fault, stupid Aggies. 

The importance of the AQ bid cannot be understated.  Being able to lose a game or two and still be in the hunt for a big-time BCS bowl game is quite a luxury, especially with a future non-conference slate that will include the likes of Oklahoma, LSU, and Arkansas.  Going undefeated is no easy feat in college football today, I don't care if you do play in the Big 12, Big East, SEC, or you play the Little Sisters of the Poor, it adds incredible pressure (just ask Boise State) that is unhealthy for a student athlete.  Now TCU can play without that pressure because losing a game will not necessarily mean the season is over and the sky is falling, the sun will come up and the goal will still be to win the Big East and get to a BCS game.

Bowl Affiliations
Additionally the Big East has bowl tie-ins that are far superior to the MWC's in every way imaginable; better opponents, locations, scheduled dates, and most importantly payouts.  Here is what each conference's bowl situation looks like this year: 

Mountain West Conference
#1 Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, December 22nd vs. Pac 10 #5.  Payout: $1,000,000
#2 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, CA vs. Navy or WAC.  Payout: $750,000
#3 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA, December 27th vs. ACC #7.  Payout: $1,100,000 
#4/5 New Mexico Bowl in Albuqurque, NM, December 18th vs. WAC.  Payout: $750,000
#4/5 Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas, TX, December 30th vs. C-USA #3.  Payout: $750,000

Big East Conference
#1 BCS Bowl (Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Orange) in Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena, or Tempe, January 1st-4th vs. BCS.  Payout: $17,000,000
#2 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fl, December 28th vs. ACC #3.  Payout: $2,130,000
#3 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, NC, December 31st vs ACC #5.  Payout: $1,600,000 
#4 Pinstripe Bowl in Bronx, NY, December 30th vs. Big 12 #7.  Payout: $2,000,000
#5a Compass Bowl in Birmingham AL, January 8th vs. SEC #8.  Payout: $900,000
#5b* Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN, December 31st vs. C-USA #1 or SEC #8/9.  Payout: $1,700,000
#6 Beef O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL, December 21st vs. C-USA #4.  Payout: $1,000,000

*provisional spot

Television Exposure & Revenue
In 2012 TCU will earn roughly 4-5 times the amount of television revenue than it could in the MWC and possibly much more than that when the contract is renegotiated for 2013.  This money will be quite a boon for TCU's athletic development as TCU is a private university that does not receive public funding like a University of Texas does, so the extra athletic revenue will help to further improve the athletic department and facilities. 

The extra money is nice but it will be even better to be back on ESPN again and get some heavy east coast exposure.  ESPN is great not only because of the amount of eyes on the games but also the amount of love and publicity ESPN will throw your way as they shamelessly promote those games.  Boise State got a good taste of that love this year and conversely TCU felt the cold shoulder that you get when you're not an ESPN product, which was especially evident last night on the BCS Countdown Show.

The only con to being back on ESPN again is that we are going to be playing lots of weeknight games which hurts attendance and can anger area high school coaches (in Texas Fridays are for HS football) but thats just something we'll have to deal with.

Big-time players want to play in front of big-time crowds, and when comparing the 2009 attendance averages of the Big East and MWC(below) it is safe to say that the Big East is a marked improvement. Though the Big East fans probably won't travel that well to Fort Worth they can't do any worse than the MWC fans did.  Also TCU's home attendance should be aided by the name brand recognition of the Big East teams.  Which team would you rather go see TCU play at Amon Carter Stadium, Rutgers or New Mexico?  Both are last in their respective conferences, but I think it's a no brainer that Rutgers would be a bigger draw.  Also TCU should be able look forward to a home and home series with Notre Dame due to their non-football arrangement with the Big East.

2009 Average Home Game Attendance:
(new) MWC
1. Hawaii - 36,725
2. Air Force – 35,6565
3. Fresno- 33,578
4. Boise State- 32,782
5. New Mexico – 26,9446
6. San Diego State – 24,4647
7. Colorado State – 23,6438
8. UNLV – 22,7759
9. Wyoming – 19,494
10. Nevada- 17,500

Big East:
1. West Virginia 57,317
2. Pittsburgh 53,446 40
3. South Florida 52,553
4. Rutgers 49,113
5. Syracuse 39,043
6. Connecticut 38,229
7. Cincinnati 33,957
8. Louisville 32,450

Visiting Destinations
In my humble opinion this is one of the biggest cons to leaving the MWC for the Big East.  I would much rather visit all of the MWC's majestic locales than the rust belt crapholes of the Big East.  While New York and Tampa could make for a fun trip give me Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Hawaii, San Diego, and Fort Collins any day. 

Travel Expenses
The initial negative reaction that most people have when they hear that TCU is heading to the Big East is that it does not make geographic sense and that the travel expenses for the non-revenue sports will be unbearable.  In fact the travel is only about 100 miles more on average and the Big East has schools in less remote locations than the MWC and has more major airports so it's not that big of an issue.  Also we learned today that due to some Big East rules the travel costs for TCU will actually be less imposing in the Big East than the MWC:

On travel issues:  Marinatto said it's only an issue for non-football sports, and the travel isn't as bad as it seems. The Big East does not require that individual-based sports -- like track, swimming and diving, cross country, tennis and golf -- play other league schools in the regular season. They can play local opponents or go to meets and then advance to the Big East postseason tournament. The Mountain West did have that requirement, so TCU actually has to pay more in travel expenses for those teams in the MWC than it will in the Big East.

The only sports that will be affected, then, are team sports such as men's and women's basketball, soccer, baseball and volleyball.

"It's not as much of a geographic stretch as you might think," he said.

For the past ten years schools have negatively recruited against TCU by using the non-AQ angle, but not anymore now that we have a place at the table.  Additionally the factors I listed above(better bowls, ESPN, bigger crowds) will all play a major factor and make a massive difference in a TCU recruiting effort that is already improving leaps and bounds every year.  In the coming years you will probably see alot more 4-star athletes considering TCU than ever before.  It also moves our recruiting footprint east and should allow us to focus more on states like Florida (where we've already had some success) although Texas will always be TCU's recruiting base since it is so fertile.

This move will have the most dramatic affect on our struggling basketball program.  The Big East is arguably the best basketball conference in the nation which will cause TCU to flounder initially but with time and support the program could grow into a respectable one.  TCU has a fertile recruiting base in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and TCU will be in a unique position to pitch to recruits that they can play in the best basketball conference in the nation and do it from their own backyard, that's just crazy enough to work. 

In addition to improving recruiting TCU will also need to improve their basketball arena, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.  This shouldn't be too hard to accomplish with the increased revenues from the Big East and inevitable fan and donor enthusiasm that will build once teams like Syracuse and Georgetown start visiting Fort Worth.  Make no mistake this will be a long road and it won't happen overnight, but TCU's basketball team could be Big East worthy in 5-10 years.

Conference Instability
With the ever changing conference landscape it is more than likely that another round of conference expansion could wipe out the Big East if the Big 10 or ACC came calling for Pitt, WVU, or Syracuse, but quite frankly that is a risk that we have to take.  We have to improve our situation in the present so that if something happens in the future we will be in the best position possible to land on our feet.  Also it's not like the MWC is stable either or that any of the other AQ conferences will take us in so we just need to go for it, repercussions be damned.

Keeping Patterson
This finally gives Patterson one of the things that he desired but TCU wasn't going to be able to deliver before today, a BCS auto-bid, which makes me think he will be in purple for quite some time.  Patterson is a unique fellow and is not a ladder climbing a**hole like Brian Kelly or Bobby Petrino, he is a visionary and transcendent leader that has not only built up our football team but the entire program.  Patterson is entrenched here, he helped raise the funds for the new stadium and without him there would be no Big East offer to speak of.  I truly believe that he wants to see this through all the way and reach his goal of winning a national championship at TCU, and when he does, he'll want to do it again.  Patterson is already well paid (2.5 million) and with this news he and his staff are due for another pay bump which should keep him from picking up the phone when the suitors come wooing.  Why would he want to leave for another job where the expectations will be so high that he could be on the hotseat within 2-3 years if the ball doesn't bounce his way in a few games.  Patterson will be welcome at TCU for life, win or lose.  When it's all said and done Gary Patterson will be to TCU what Joe Paterno is to Penn State and Bobby Bowden was to FSU.

Bottom Line
It's a great time to be a Frog fan.  Last week we were down in the dumps and coming to terms with the fact that we could go 12-0 and end up in the Las Vegas bowl, and this week we are packing our bags for the Rose bowl, are in the on-deck circle for the title game, and now are headed for an AQ conference.  The future is bright for the Froggies.