July 1, 2012

After long wait, TCU back where it belongs

The Frogs today rejoin the loop, ending 18-year exile from Big 12 brethren in Texas.

It's finally official.

TCU is a member of the Big 12 Conference today after a nine-month wait since the move was announced in October.

But the wait has really been more like 18 years.

In March 1994, the demise of the Southwest Conference was cemented with the announcement that Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor were leaving to join schools from the Big Eight Conference to form the Big 12.

TCU was forced to venture out on its own after 72 years in the SWC, playing first in the Western Athletic Conference with fellow SWC also-rans Rice and SMU before moving on to Conference USA, and then switching to the Mountain West for the past seven seasons.

The wait to be welcomed "home," as former interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas put it when the move was announced, probably did more good than harm for TCU's athletic program.

"Before we look outward, we need to look inward first to know what we need to get there," was the idea among TCU administrators after the breakup in the mid-1990s, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "Nothing is going to be handed to you in this world. If you want to make strides you have to do it with the hard work you put into it."

There was a commitment made to upgrading campus facilities, especially athletic facilities, in the late 1990s that has continued to this day. The $164 million in renovations to Amon G. Carter Stadium are scheduled to be completed for the season opener Sept. 8.

"The longtime donors and fans who have been supporting the institution, whether they've been working here or just supporting TCU, it's great for them," said Del Conte, who became the Frogs' athletic director in November 2009. "For the past 16 years they've been working diligently to get us in this position where we could get back to the Big 12. I'm so excited for them to be back in a conference that they worked so hard for. Their hard work paid off."

The Big 12 not only is a regional fit for TCU, reuniting the Frogs with longtime SWC rivals Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor, but it possesses something arguably more important: stability.

The inclusion of TCU and West Virginia has helped the Big 12 turn around its public image from a year ago when Texas A&M and Missouri left for the Southeastern Conference. Nebraska and Colorado also previously bailed in recent years, leaving the impression that more teams wanted out of the Big 12 than in it. But the league is back in good stead as one of the premier athletic conferences in the nation. Rumors continue to persist that more schools could join, including Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame.

Some Big 12 leaders, including Texas Tech football coach Tommy Tuberville, have publicly voiced their desire to add members to get back to 12 teams and broaden the league's appeal.

"We are a strong conference with storied traditions and fierce rivalries which will only grow stronger in the future," new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a video welcoming TCU and West Virginia.

Bowlsby mentions that Big 12 teams have won 47 NCAA titles and league athletes have won 517 individual NCAA championships.

Winning won't be easy for TCU teams, especially the Frogs' football team, which has won three consecutive Mountain West titles. But the wait hasn't been easy either.

"As we ascended in our journey for the past 16 years the thought was to always get back to a BCS conference, to get back to a regional conference." Del Conte said. "From the inception of the BCS, that was always our goal and that conference was always the Big 12 just because of what it meant regionally. This is what we've always been striving for. To get back to a position where we feel we belong."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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