For TCU, it was time to make a move

FORT WORTH, Texas -- For TCU, it was time to quit trying to alter the college football landscape. Instead of working the system as best it could from outside the coveted BCS-qualifying conferences, the Frogs are now on the inside.

TCU did the only thing it could Monday: Take an invitation to join the big boys on the gridiron and leapfrog to the Big East.

"Dang right, the Frogs are here," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said.

They are. All of them. Del Conte wasn't going to spearhead a move to a new conference unless the entire athletic program was involved, so all of TCU's sports join the Big East. That means not only will a team like West Virginia come and play at Amon G. Carter Stadium in the next few years, but Syracuse, Villanova, Connecticut, Louisville and Notre Dame (among others) will dribble basketballs at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. A strong TCU baseball program will get to face off against tough Big East competition as well.

But we all know football is the lead frog in this hop, and this change is designed to give the program a more favorable opportunity to compete on the highest level.

It was time to make a move. The Horned Frogs' football revival began in 1998 and has blossomed under coach Gary Patterson. The program is in position to not only survive a move to a major conference, but thrive in one. No, the Big East isn't the SEC or even the Big 12. But it does have a seat at the adult table when it comes to top-dollar BCS feasts in January, and TCU now will be better-positioned to sit there.

TCU's move to the Big East means Patterson doesn't have to head out on publicity trips to the ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., during an off week so that voters don't forget about the Frogs.

You might have heard some of Patterson's talking points during those numerous TV and radio appearances. Since 2002, TCU is 15-3 in its past 18 games against schools from AQ conferences, including a 6-2 mark against the Big 12 and 4-0 against the Pac-10. And 65-11 since joining the Mountain West. And has its fourth top-10 ranking in those six seasons.

Patterson made his trip through the ESPN "car wash" more than a week ago, hoping to encourage voters to consider more than just Boise State as a viable non-AQ option for BCS bowls. Turns out Nevada's win over Boise puts the Frogs in the Rose Bowl should they not leap their way into the national title game.

But the time for begging and pleading will soon come to an end for the demonstrative Horned Frogs coach. He'll have a renovated stadium and an enhanced recruiting footprint by the time the football season cranks up in 2012, less than two years away.

Patterson talks a lot about his pyramid, which hangs proudly in the team room where TCU held the formal announcement of its departure from the Mountain West Conference and its entrance to the Big East. On top of that pyramid is the national championship game and just under it is the goal of making a BCS bowl game and winning it.

This move makes both of those goals a little more attainable.

"I think it makes them more accessible," Patterson said. "We can do it now, but this helps. It's not easy to get to a title game, that's for sure."

TCU's program is at a point where it can compete every week with the eight other Big East football schools. If the Frogs win their nonconference games and get through the league schedule, they'd have a chance -- just like they do this season -- to be in the title game discussion.

But instead of merely hoping to be chosen as a non-automatic qualifier, if TCU wins the Big East, it would be in a BCS bowl. End of discussion. No more bleary-eyed fans staring at a TV and hoping for some missed field goals by Boise State that would prevent the possibility that a 12-0 TCU team wouldn't make a BCS bowl.

The change of conference geography does more than simply allow TCU to play for a guaranteed BCS spot no matter what kind of record its conference champion has -- four-loss UConn is in the driver's seat this season to play in the Fiesta Bowl as the Big East representative. A look at the other advantages:

  • Exposure. TCU will be in a conference that has a football TV contract with ESPN and a basketball deal with CBS. No longer will football fans have to hit the guide button on their satellite or cable boxes and spend 15 minutes trying to find out whether they have the channel that TCU is on that day.

  • Recruiting. Patterson said it won't change how he recruits, in that he still wants a predominately Texas roster. But the move will change how others recruit players against TCU. No longer can schools say that TCU doesn't play in a major BCS conference.

  • "That won't be hanging over us anymore," Patterson said.

  • Travel. Del Conte said the overall miles logged by his teams won't change much by going from the West Coast-heavy Mountain West to the Big East. But instead of the teams traveling back from a two-hour time zone difference to the TCU campus, they'll actually gain an hour.

  • Basketball. On the surface, it's easy to think that this move isn't good for a men's basketball program still trying to establish itself. The Frogs could get beat up for a while, but the move should certainly help coach Jim Christian and his staff recruit against other Texas programs knowing that the Frogs will play so many quality opponents with rich basketball tradition. And playing in a basketball league could force TCU to put even more resources into the program.

The Frogs sure don't mind dancing from one conference to another -- they've done it now five times since 1995, the most for any FBS school. And Del Conte was careful not to put any kind of timeframe on his program's stay in the Big East, saying he couldn't predict what might happen with conference realignment in the future.

But this means TCU is in a higher place on the pecking order should something happen to vault it into an even better position on that front.

No one in Fort Worth is thinking about any of that, of course. Del Conte thanked the Mountain West Conference and said it's always difficult to leave a place you've called home for a while.

"But it's not the same home that we bought or the same home we were invited into," Del Conte said, referencing the fact that the conference is losing BYU and Utah and adding Boise State and a few others.

So TCU moves on to the Big East, with the blessing of its board of trustees and the president of Notre Dame, a Catholic priest who came down for the news conference.

"It was the right time," TCU chancellor Victor Boschini said. "The Big East will enhance our student-athlete experience and raise our visibility. It's exciting."

Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.