Frogs make big leap to Big 12

Posted Monday, Oct. 10, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini was at Panera Bread on University Drive when he received a phone call around 7 a.m. Thursday.

It was Big 12 Conference interim commissioner Chuck Neinas with an invitation.

"He made me the offer and I didn't answer," Boschini said, recalling standing there in a morning haze, trying to register what he had just heard.

"Are you there?" Neinas asked.

"Oh, I'm here, it's just that I'm in shock," replied Boschini.

That offer five days ago led to Monday's announcement at the Kelly Alumni Center that TCU had formally accepted the invitation to join the Big 12 beginning in July 2012. TCU's 50-member board of trustees unanimously approved the move moments before the announcement.

The Horned Frogs were scheduled to leave the Mountain West Conference for the Big East in 2012, but then Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced in September that they were moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"It was a big blow, so it gave me pause," Boschini said.

The school could likely negotiate down the Big East's $5 million penalty for backing out of the commitment, a TCU source said.

That fee, roughly what TCU pocketed as a member of the MWC this year (which includes revenue from two nationally televised nonconference games), pales in comparison to the $17 million Big 12 schools get from their TV deals with ABC and Fox.

Boschini and TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said informal talks with Neinas began less than two weeks ago. Neither expected last week's call.

"It happened so quickly, but ever since it started to roll ... we put a lot of thought into this," Boschini said.

Neinas, who took over for Dan Beebe three weeks ago, said there was "no negativity on my watch" with regard to inviting TCU, even from Texas.

"We went through a pretty thorough research process," Neinas said. "We assembled a lot of information. TCU's academic standing cannot be minimized because that appeals to presidents and chancellors because they vote. We found that TCU ranked very high in terms of value. Fox and ESPN rated TCU very highly."

Del Conte choked up during Monday's news conference, and told the crowd of trustees, staff and coaches that he shed some tears of joy after taking Neinas's call.

He soon told TCU football coach Gary Patterson, who responded: "It's been a long time coming. It's the best thing for TCU."

"Probably the guy's job that got tougher than anybody else's at TCU is mine," Patterson said Monday. "But I've always been a guy that liked challenges. Once they made the decision that this is what we're going to do, then my [challenge] has to be, how do we compete and how do we win?"

TCU replaces Texas A&M, which is headed to the Southeastern Conference. Missouri had hoped for an invitation from the SEC, but its presidents met Monday and took no action on conference expansion.

Meanwhile, back at Panera, Boschini told Neinas that he was honored to be asked and bustled his guest out of Panera to consult with Del Conte.

"I basically pulled the food out from under his mouth, put him in the car and said we have to go back to campus right now," Boschini said. "He was speaking at my class that morning. I have to admit I didn't hear much of what he said for three hours."

He and Del Conte discussed the pros and cons.

"It wasn't tough, but it was a decision that deserved a thoughtful response," Boschini said.

Boschini's breakfast guest, Michael Stallard, is a TCU parent who wrote a self-help book, Fired Up or Burned Out.

Monday's announcement could have shared the book's subtitle: How to Reignite Your Team's Passion, Creativity and Productivity.

All of TCU's head coaches were on hand Monday, all echoing the similar sentiment.

"To get a chance to play the Big 12 programs, some of the very best in college baseball, in our park, and get a chance to play them over three days is exciting," baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "That's the difference. To have those teams come here and play in our environment. We're already eighth in the country in attendance, so I'm really excited about what our attendance can be."

Basketball coaches Jim Christian (men) and Jeff Mittie (women) spoke of relishing the attendance boost at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum for Big 12 games, and how the Big 12 brand name is an obvious boon for recruiting.

The Horned Frogs have played in three conferences since being left to fend for themselves when the Southwest Conference dissolved after the 1995 season. Now they'll rejoin former league mates in Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech in the Big 12. Neinas tried to soothe the 17-year old wound.

"TCU has traveled a long path, been to different places," he said. "I'd like to welcome you home."

Stefan Stevenson

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