TCU strengthens Big East

TCU, the No. 3 ranked team in the BCS standings, announced Monday that it has accepted an offer to join the Big East conference as an all-sports member and will start play in its new league in 2012-13.

TCU, the No. 3 ranked team in the BCS standings, announced Monday that it has accepted an offer to join the Big East conference as an all-sports member and will start play in its new league in 2012-13.

"Our membership is genuinely excited to add an institution of the caliber of TCU to our Conference," Big East Conference Commissioner John Marinatto said Monday afternoon.

The addition of the Horned Frogs, who could play for the BCS national championship this season if either Oregon or Auburn lose this week, is a major coup for the Big East – a league whose automatic BCS qualifying status has been hotly debated this season. If Connecticut beats South Florida this weekend, the Big East's BCS representative will have four losses (more than any other BCS conference champion) and could be unranked in the national polls.

"The Big East over the years has been an outstanding conference," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "Every year some conferences are down, some are up. Maybe we're taking a hit because [our BCS representative] will have four or five losses. But this conference has done a lot for college football and will continue to get better."

TCU's addition strengthens the Big East's status as one of six automatic qualifying BCS conferences, while at the same time weakening the Mountain West, who has eyed the Big East's BCS bid in recent years. TCU is the third Mountain West program to bolt the league this year, joining Utah and BYU.

Gary Patterson has built a powerhouse program.

"The addition of TCU ensures that the Big East will continue to remain one of the nation's premier athletic conferences well into the future," stated John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame and Chairman of the BIG EAST CEO Executive Committee.

In a down year for the Big East, TCU's lofty national reputation provides a boost to its future league.

"This particular year, sure it [TCU's BCS ranking] would [raise the Big East's profile]," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But if you look back over the past five years, and I don't have all the statistics in front of me - I think if you look at where Big East teams ended the season ranked, how we did against non-conference opponents, how we did in bowl games....I remember my first couple years West Virginia competing for the national championship, Louisville was in the that situation, but lost to Rutgers on a field goal - we can put up a very good argument."

While the Big East is experiencing a down cycle this season, the league has been strong since 2005, the first year of the current membership alignment after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left for the ACC and Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida joined the league. During that time span, the Big East has won three of five BCS games, won 16 of 22 bowl games and owns the second-best non-conference winning percentage behind the SEC.

"We don't have to take a back seat to anybody," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "We play great, tough football. We've done well and out track record speaks for itself."

TCU, which lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl last year, has won at least ten games in seven of the last nine years, including six seasons with 11 victories. The Horned Frogs finished the regular-season 12-0 for the second consecutive year after beating New Mexico last Saturday.

"It would be great if they can join the conference because if you look at them every year they're always there and they have a great record," Charlie Strong said. "Their head coach is outstanding and it's a great university. I think it will be a good addition to our conference."

Gary Patterson helped build one of the strongest non-BCS programs in the nation at TCU. During his 13-year tenure, TCU has won five conference championships and played in 12 bowl games. Patterson, who has won three Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year awards, won nine national Coach of the Year honors last season.

TCU recently started a $105-million renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium to better enhance the football fan experience, upgrade amenities and transform the historic Fort Worth icon into the "Camden Yards" of collegiatefootball stadiums. The Horned Frogs averaged nearly 42, 500 attendance this season, and the stadium can be expanded to more than 50,000. TCU sold a record 19,143 season-tickets in 2010, and had three sell-outs.

"They're an outstanding program," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "...They have great facilities and national reputation."

TCU's addition also helps Big East football scheduling. Currently, Big East members scramble to schedule five non-conference games per year, then face an unbalanced league schedule that creates a four league road game, three home game scenario every other year. TCU will help balance the league schedule and reduce the number of non-conference games administrators will have to schedule.

"I think that it will help [scheduling]," Wannstedt said. "That's got to be a real nightmare for our athletic directors trying to schedule five games each year. It will help in that light."

With TCU in the fold, the Big East is awaiting a decision from Villanova to become the league's tenth football member. Already a Big East member in all other sports, the Wildcats are expected to announce their decision in 2011. There's been some discussion that the Big East will petition the BCS to allow 10 member leagues to hold a championship game.

"I'm sure the possibility of a conference play-off like all these other conferences have will be discussed down the road," Wannstedt said. "I'm sure the administrators are giving that a lot of thought."

For now, the Big East hopes to capitalize on the success of their newest addition. TCU, which is located five miles from downtown Fort Worth, the 19th largest city in the United States, should help bolster the Big East in future television negotiations. The addition of the Horned Frogs gives the Big East six of the nation's top 14 television markets.

"[TCU] Chancellor Boschini and athletic director Chris Del Conte clearly share the same academic and athletic aspirations of our current members and are similarly committed to sponsoring a very highly competitive athletic program," Marinatto said. "Located in one of the top five media markets in the country, TCU also enables the Big East to extend its media footprint, which already encompasses more than a quarter of the country."

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