Even their mascot finds it funny that SMU thinks they can be TCU.
To an outside observer, the TCU/SMU Rivalry is surely viewed with some skepticism. What's the big deal about two small private school, predominantly white upper class fan bases having a pissing contest over who is the best football team in the most NFL of NFL markets? Especially when you consider that, you know, TCU absolutely owns SMU so there's really no argument there, anyway. But, as it has been and as it will always be, SMU will never accept the fact that losing the Armed Forces Bowl in their own stadium does not put them on our level in the football sense. So we will continue to get articles like this one from ESPN.com's Richard Durrett outlining the ways in which SMU can one day ascend to the level of their rival. Or sort of - it's basically a lot of apples to oranges discussion that comes to a pretty unclear resolution and involves a lot of candy coated Administration speak. No, not THAT kind of candy. Ok, well maybe a little. Now that TCU has arrived, dominated and moved on to greener pastures, the local sports writers need a new underdog story, and naturally SMU fits that mold. It's not their fault, it's simply what the job demands. To slip in a Pitchfork Media worthy analogy here, sports writers talking up SMU as the new TCU is kind of like hipsters telling you that old Animal Collective is better than their recent output. It's somewhat contrarian and makes you seem informed, but deep down you know all you're defending is some guy beating a drum and making yipping noises like an asshole. And beating a drum and yipping like an asshole is pretty much SMU Football at present and for the forseeable future.
The general idea of Durrett's article is that SMU needs to act more like TCU if they want to succeed. Which sounds nice, and I suppose imitation is the most direct form of flattery, but let's get serious here. SMU is going to put together some nice, cute little seasons as long as June Jones and his wardrobe hang around Highland Park. But insofar as TCU remains TCU, SMU's ceiling is more Central Florida than the University of.
SMU is KIND OF where we were during the years we all set foot on campus in the early 2000's, although I wouldn't have to do too much arguing to convince you that TCU was on better footing. But for the sake of where I'm taking this, let's say SMU in 2011 is TCU in 2001. Higher caliber athletes are starting to take interest, the donors are coming back into the fold and bowl eligible seasons that were once the rarest of rarities are looking like the new routine. But, as, like life, college football doesn't exist in a vacuum, you have to consider two things. One is that the BCS system is set up a little bit differently than it was a decade ago. And two, by joining the Big East, TCU pretty much drank SMU's BCS milkshake.
If we're being honest with ourselves, in the short time between Utah and BYU leaving the Mountain West and the Big East reaching their hand up our skirt to find the prize inside, our prospects were GRIM. I've written about it before in a more scathing manner, but a Mountain West Conference with Boise State, TCU and Nevada at its helm was not quite the same as Boise, TCU, Utah and BYU, despite what Craig Thompson wanted us to believe. But at the same time, at least we weren't still in Conference USA! Where we had a pretty significant hill to climb to reach BCS relevance, SMU is looking up Mount Everest, and an Everest they must climb with one of Ookie's rapestands up their caboose. In order to be the "next TCU," SMU MUST somehow gain access to all of the BCS goodies. And I'm not quite sure how it is going to happen.
As we've well learned, the BCS is all about money. That's it, there really isn't anything else. This is why it took so long for TCU to be invited to the table in the first place. And now that we have, what incentive does any Conference to throw the Ponies a lifeline? The Dallas market is at once one of the most lucrative in the country and one of the most volatile. Ignoring the ten ton NFL elephant in the room, as well as the 9 ton MLB and NBA and the 0 ton NHL varietals, the Dallas market is UT and aggy first, Tech second, and everyone else third, although Baylor and TCU are clearly on a slightly higher pedestal than SMU. Not to mention where you judge OU to be, which is somewhere between the first and third tiers. So in strictly an NCAA sense, SMU is the 7th horse in their own backyard. That's not good for business. That's not good for anyone associated with the school and wants to see it grow athletically. In their present condition, at best SMU can move up to the TCU/Baylor tier in terms of visibility, but that will require a couple of Conference Championships and at least one BCS Bowl trip. That's at a minimum. And with Baylor and TCU clearly on just as much of a rise as the Ponies, relatively speaking, but with BCS status to boot, that gap is making Michael Strahan's mouth look like a cornerstone of dental perfection.
But even if SMU does those things - not an easy task with Houston, UCF and Southern Miss in their conference, not to mention Boise always being in play for the auto bid - I fear the events of last fall will forever doom the Ponies to second tier status. When the Big East decided that TCU was the prettiest girl at the dance, they pretty much sealed SMU's fate as Metroplex cannon fodder, and I don't see how they can recover without the BCS. And if they ever hope to join a BCS Conference, they really only have three options, none pleasant.
One is if the Big 12 decides to expand back to its namesake and swoops the Ponies off their cocaine powdered noses. However, there are a few problems with this. If the Big 12 does decide they want to regain the revenue and clout they are losing without divisions and a title game, don't you think TCU is at the top of the list, if only to get us away from the East Coast market? And that's assuming that the league completely reverses course from their most recent stance against the Frogs when it made an enormous amount of sense to add us - that they have the D/FW market locked down already, so why take food out of mouths for no apparent reason? If they ever chose to expand, I think option A is Arkansas - not leaving the SEC, but it's always going to be tossed out there for nostalgia's sake - and TCU, option B is TCU and maybe BYU and option C is TCU and SMU, although don't discount the Cougar High factor either. So, assuming that I'm the soothsayer I chalk myself up to be, SMU in the Big 12 looks like a slim, slim option.
The second option would be for the Big East to expand to 10-12 football playing schools, which would mean adding one to three more schools into the mix when you include TCU. Of course, there are all sorts of theories here, none of which looking like they will come to fruition any time soon. The most commonly floated about rumor is that the Conference will have Villanova make the move from FCS to FBS, or vis versa, which is a very logical move since the Wildcats are a current BE basketball member and will not upset that balance. However, if the stories are true, the BE went so far as to extend this invitiation only to revoke at the 11th hour due to concerns regarding the Wildcats stadium situation (they were going to have to play their games in an SMU sized MLS stadium in the 'burbs). So they're reportedly out.
From there you have an assortment of teams in the mix, some logical (UCF, Memphis, East Carolina, Houston) some not (SMU, Notre Dame). UCF makes a ton of sense as it is a big school in a large recruiting area with updated facilities, but current BE member USF, who would be their natural rival, disagrees with this. So they're out for the time being. Notre Dame clearly isn't joining up, happy to keep their indie status in football and BE status in basketball. Which leaves Memphis, East Carolina, Houston and SMU as possibilities. Not exactly a murderers row of football talent, nor a group of schools that are going to add many eyes (read: money). And if they were to add another school in Texas, why would they add one in the same market? Houston would be the only logical choice here, but I still don't see it. Also, SMU lacks a baseball team, which would likely pose some issues as well.
In fact, I don't see the Big East doing much of anything other than coming to an agreement on the Villanova deal. The major issue with Big East expansion is the delicate balance between the basketball only and the football schools. At 17, there will be way too many teams in the basketball conference once TCU joins. You'll recall the back and forth we had with the conference as they initially wanted us as a football only member but ultimately decided that the value we bring to the table in that area overshadows what our basketball team subtracts. The basketball schools are already threatening to break away from the Conference entirely if more schools are added. I doubt the Big East continues to stir that pot.
So SMU's last, and most likely, option is to join the Mountain West in our place and hope to God that Conference eventually qualifies for AQ status. To accomplish this, the Conference is either going to have to add another team to the mix to prop up the Conference - Houston - or have someone rise up from the muck. Which would basically put the Ponies in the same position we were in just a few short months ago - hitching their hopes to Boise remaining top notch and hoping Nevada clones Colin Kaepernick, Fresno State starts backing up their talk by actually winning some of those high profile non-con games, and presuming that Colorado State and Air Force are on the rise. The first part of that scenario is entirely likely; the latter, well, needs improvement.
At the same time, you're also assuming that SMU continues to improve, which is probable but not guaranteed. And let's not forget that, despite all of the improvements they have made relative to where they were when Phil Bennett was still coaching, they still haven't won Conference title and also lost a bowl game at home to the Army. You'll remember, football is at least the third priority in those players' lives. So, that's no bueno. And, no matter what, Boise is going to run rampant through that Conference for the forseeable future, so everyone else is playing for second place.
So there lies the rub - SMU's ceiling is second place in the Mountain West Conference and the Las Vegas Bowl year in and year out, and that's assuming a Conference change happens. Not exactly a bright future, is it?
I appreciate the rivalry with our cross town penny loafer wearing pals. I love how it absolutely burns them up to witness our success, partially at their expense. Love it. And it'd be pretty cool if they could give us a game more than once every 10 years. But, with the current CFB landscape, I just can't see it happening. As many strides as they have made these past few years, the Ponies made their bed when they associated themselves with Craig James. Now they've gotta keep sleeping in it. At least it's better than a Port-a-Potty in Waco, right?
And that's Today's Lesson in SMU Reality Checks.