Conference realignment chat is a lot like drinking a bottle of whiskey. You start timidly at first, trying to keep to your wits about you, but pretty soon you’re blindly stabbing at any and all things that cross your path, while completely abandoning any sense of reason and eventually crumpling to the ground in a jumbled heap before depositing those 3AM Hot Pockets in the nearest receptacle you can find, or more likely, on yourself. In other words, once you start pondering the possibilities, your thought processes snowball on each other and you’ve eventually talked yourself into the Big 12 finally removing Baylor and replacing them with the Frog.
As a result of this bullheadishness, most TCU fans pretty much fall into two camps. The first is that the Big Ten is going to expand by grabbing at least one, and possibly two, Big 12 schools, along with an assortment of Big East detritus, which would then start a chain reaction power grab amongst the major conferences and, as a result, TCU, Utah and possibly BYU would pretty much have a golden ticket into the conference of their choosing as they all try and keep pace. In our case, this would be the Big 12, where either we would go into the north division and guarantee our fans season tickets in Kansas City or Houston for the Big 12 Championship every year, or Oklahoma and OSU would move into the north and we’d go south where we could annually resume our long dormant rivalries with Texas, aggy and Tech. This would obviously be filed under the "best case scenario" tab in our Trapper Keeper of conference aspirations.
The other likely option is that the Big Ten is going Notre Dame or bust and, assuming bust, the status quo remains and, at the very least, the MWC will probably gain an automatic bid to the BCS in a few years anyway. And even if Notre Dame does decide to end its football independence, I think the Big Ten dials down its expectations at that point and becomes the other Big 12, which pretty much keeps the status quo except now the Big Ten furthers its lead as the richest conference in the country. Both of these solutions sound fine
to me, but the fact remains that in both of these scenarios the MWC is basically going to sit dormant and, for better or worse, let the cards fall as they may.
But there’s a third scenario out there gaining steam and this is the one I find the most intriguing – What if Craig Thompson gets up off his ass and takes the proactive approach of signing Boise State before the conference can be raped and pillaged by outsiders? What if we are able to all but guarantee that our conference is on level ground competitively with any of the other major conferences, and probably more so than the Big East and ACC, at least from a football standpoint? Basically, if we pick up Boise, and the Big Ten creates the snowball effect which presumably opens the door for us or Utah to switch conference allegiances, does it still make sense for any of us to leave?
I think we all have to assume that SOMETHING is going to happen with conference expansion. I’m a firm believer in the ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ idea and, from the looks of it, there is going to be some sort of a shift in the college conference landscape. I’m not sure there’s going to be an all out Armageddon like some people expect, but I do think a team or two are going to change locales and make some conference a nice chunk of change.
Honestly though, a lot of this seems like gamesmanship on the part of the Big Ten and, before I go any further, let me make it clear that this conversation mostly pertains to the football aspect of realignment because, at their heart, all of these talks are about football, money, and little else. The Big Ten has LONG been hurt in regards to clout because they lack a conference title game, a situation that automatically gives the Big 12 and SEC a leg up when it comes to national championship consideration. NCAA rules state that a conference must have 12 members in order to stage a conference championship and as Televen hasn’t been able to have this rule altered, expansion is the next best option. Still, unless Notre Dame is involved in some way, I don’t see it as being 100% certain that the conference will expand.
The fact that I can’t see why the Big Ten would seriously entertain taking on Pittsburg, Rutgers, Connecticut or Syracuse clouds my ideas. But, wouldn’t it make sense that the Big Ten, who has coveted Notre Dame since the beginning of time, would use Notre Dame’s Big East affiliation in other sports against them in the form of expansion talks? That, basically, Notre Dame can turn their back on the Big Ten… but they’re going to absolute F up what they have going for them with the Big East affiliation by gutting that conference and turning it into the Conference USA lite in the process? In which case, Notre Dame would probably have to join the Big Ten after all.
The Big Ten makes tons of money; they have one of the two most luractive television contracts in college athletics and their member teams are paid more annually than any other conference. So unless they can add a member who significantly increases their national exposure (read: TV money) why expand? I’m honestly not sure what Notre Dame’s hang up is because it makes sense geographically, they play half of the teams in the conference every year already, and, most importantly, they’d make more money than they currently do as an independent. Not that Notre Dame needs money - they make PLENTY - but most people only leave money on the table when the Texas Rangers are involved. If they want to continue to act like a big dog as an independent who cowtows to no one while getting drilled by Air Force and Navy year after year and get paid less for it, then that’s just plain, dumbass arrogance.
But, enough of a detour as my original point in putting together this post is to determine the best outcome for TCU. I love TCU as much as anyone and I think we bring as good of a collection of athletic programs to the table as anyone else in the region outside of the University of Texas. Still, as I stated above, this isn’t about athletics, it’s about money, plain and simple. And as much as we take pride in our school and our teams, step back for a minute and think about what we really bring to the Big 12 table because, if we are to change conferences, that’s the only logical scenario.
TCU is a small, private school with the same number of living alumni as some of their member schools currently have on campus. Our entire enrollment is smaller than the incoming freshman class at aggy or UT. Proposed expansion aside, we have an outdated 44,000 seat football stadium that we’ve filled once on our own in recent memory, we have a crumbling basketball arena that couldn’t sell ¼ of its tickets if they gave you the cost of your ticket in strip club funny money when you purchase them, not to mention the product we put on the court year after year. Truthfully, our best asset is our baseball program due to fan support, yearly success, and a top notch facility, but, in the college sports world, baseball is a distant, distant third to football and basketball, and maybe even track in some circles. And while we’d like to play up the Dallas/Fort Worth market as an asset, we can’t lie to ourselves and say that the Big 12 doesn’t already dominate it. Furthermore, at present the Dallas media has no idea we exist, and Fort Worth only covers us out of convenience, so it’s not like we have much of a portfolio to present. And while we certainly bring more to the table than Baylor and Iowa State, conferences aren’t exactly in the business of removing member conferences. So really, unless the Big Ten takes Missouri and Nebraska and the Pac Ten takes Colorado, I really just don’t see us ever getting an invitation.
Which is why I think, despite my recent skepticism of the idea, going after Boise State this summer and being able to retroactively incorporate their success into our conference resume really makes the most sense. Instead of waiting for a seat at the big kids’ table, why don’t we pull up our own, turn it around, sit in it Zack Morris style and be the big men on campus? In a sense, toilet ice the BCS conferences before they can mailbox ice the MWC. Not that the MWC would ever be as competitive top to bottom as the SEC as things currently stand, but a conference with Boise State, BYU, Utah, TCU and an automiatic BCS bid immediately becomes among the premier in the country and at the very least makes the national media forget about the Big East and the ACC.
However, this only works if BYU and Utah are both able to weather whatever realignment storm we have coming our way because, lose either of them, and picking up Boise becomes a moot point. But, from what I understand, much like aggy and UT are tied at the hip, as are BYU and Utah and they’re likely to be hesitant to make a jump unless it’s together. Still, if things remain as they are and the Pac 10 comes knocking on the Utes door, I have little doubt that they'd turn blink before accepting that offer short of legal injunction. If the addition of Boise is able to guarantee us a BCS bid – and we definitely only take Boise if there’s little to no doubt that it will – would the potential of being able to compete for an automatic BCS bid and a national championship, coupled with maintaining their Holy War rivalry, be enough to keep the Utes and Cougars around for the long haul? I sincerely think it would.
Obviously, all of this isn’t to say that if the Big 12 comes calling, we shouldn’t listen. I just think that, if they do, it’ll be because they’re a depleted conference and we really need to weigh ours and the remaining member conferences options because if we jump to the Big 12, and then Texas and aggy are picked up by the SEC for money purposes, we made a poor decision. With conference spring meetings on the horizon, it's pretty much now or never if some serious moving and shaking is going to occur. Even more pressing, if the MWC does indeed move to include Boise State, they must do so before July 1 in order to count the Broncos previous records towards the conference resume. The Broncos covet a MWC bid, but will the numbers add up? And, if it's borderline, is it worth it to take a flier on the Broncos as a preemptive strike against a raid by the the other power conferences? It’s hard to guage exactly what will happen over the coming months, but if we sit around thinking that good things come to those who wait, we may end up twiddling our thumbs in the WAC, part deux.