It took almost two decades, but TCU appears to be headed back to play with some old friends.
TCU expects to join the Big 12 Conference in July, several university sources confirmed Thursday. The league's board of directors announced Thursday that it had invited the Horned Frogs to join the conference.
The TCU board of trustees is scheduled to meet in a few days, perhaps as early as today, a source said.
Most of the TCU campus was caught off guard by the quick pace of Thursday's developments. TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte called an emergency meeting of the athletic department, where Del Conte read a statement from Chancellor Victor Boschini.
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"These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU," Boschini said in the statement. "It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for many years. As always, we must consider what's best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12."
This was the first public acknowledgement by Boschini or any TCU official of Big 12 interest since rumors began to swirl a month ago. Boschini and Del Conte had remained adamant that TCU planned to join the Big East Conference in July.
TCU, which has competed in the Mountain West since 2005, announced its move to the Big East last November. The move was celebrated by Del Conte and Boschini because of the league's status as a BCS conference. But the stability of that league was in question when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced plans in September to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Boschini's statement received applause from TCU's athletic staff assembled for the meeting.
Del Conte and Boschini did not return messages. Patterson opened up on his radio show Thursday evening.
"It's exciting times," Patterson said. "It's great to finally get to a position where people want you. A guy once told me a long time ago, what you want to be able to do is to be able to say no more than say yes. Finally, TCU has gotten to that position."
Multiple TCU sources said the official announcement could come as early as this weekend. A source confirmed that TCU's revenue sharing will be phased in over a few years.
Big 12 revenues were $144 million in 2008, compared to the Mountain West's $8.5 million, according to the most recent IRS Form 990s. In April, the Big 12 signed a 13-year, $1.17 billion cable TV deal with Fox Sports.
TCU expects to make approximately $5 million in the Mountain West this year, most of it coming from nationally televised nonconference games. In the Big 12, the school expects to earn about $17 million. TCU will have to pay the Big East a $5 million fee to back out of its commitment, but since TCU is not a full-fledged member, the league's binding 27-month hold does not apply.
TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle is excited about the prospect of joining the Big 12.
"The opportunity of possibly moving into the Big 12 is great for TCU," Schlossnagle said. "It certainly would be a culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice by many, many people over a long period of time to put TCU and the athletic department in this position. From a baseball standpoint, I'm excited to compete against some of the very best programs that college baseball has to offer."
Quarterback Casey Pachall said he likes the idea of playing in the Big 12 against friends such as Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, a teammate of Pachall's at Brownwood High School.
Athletically, TCU has lived a vagabond existence since the Horned Frogs were cast aside when the Southwest Conference dissolved in the summer of 1996. TCU was left out of the Big 12, which formed in 1994 and began play in 1996, and has competed in three conferences since.
"I never thought we'd get back there," novelist and former TCU golfer Dan Jenkins said. "I think Gary has won our way back there."
TCU's commitment in the late 1990s to upgrade its athletic facilities, including the $160 million renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium, has made the school more attractive. But Del Conte touted the success in football under Patterson during the past month as rumors swirled.
Patterson credited the invitation to many TCU officials and donors who have helped revamp the athletic department the past 10 years.
"It's really taken everybody," Patterson said. "If you don't take 45,000 people to the Rose Bowl; if people don't give money to build the stadium; if you don't have people invested in what you're trying to get accomplished then none of this happens. You just can't win ballgames. I think the Big 12 saw all the things that happened."
"It's great for fans, it's great for Fort Worth and for TCU," Jenkins said. "It's going to be a tough league, but financially it's a no-brainer.... I think it's worth celebrating. Students should be dancing in the quad."
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