Driving down the constant hell that is Interstate 35 you can see that Baylor’s new football stadium is near completion.
Turn onto University Parks in Waco, and you can see the ultimate ode to Baylor’s excess, an indoor softball complex.
Let that sink in — Baylor doesn’t just have a softball complex, but an additional one for the two days of the year when the weather does not cooperate for softball players to practice softball.
You do not have to be a Baylor fan to recognize that few have done the college spending arms race any better than the Baptists. Hard to believe, but Baylor remains one of the best athletic departments in the nation.
“It wasn’t like this. It used to be a holy mess,” former Baylor board of regents member Harold Cunningham said.
This will not be a lot of fun for the TCUers to hear, but the truth is Baylor is better at ... uhh ... well, pretty much everything right about now. Men’s basketball, football, women’s basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, kickball, Candy Crush, jump rope, hopscotch, Baylor is good across the board.
It should be this way.
“People want us to have the success like Baylor is having,” TCU director of athletics Chris Del Conte said. “It took them 16 years to get there.”
Halfway into the second year of the Big 12 for TCU, the beatings continue. On Saturday afternoon, No. 7 Baylor defeated TCU 88-62 in men’s basketball.
Don’t blame TCU coach Trent Johnson for this just yet — he doesn’t have much of a chance against Baylor coach Scott Drew’s better teams. Not sure how he did it, but Baylor is the best team in Texas.
The outcome reminded me of the time an older friend, who is a longtime TCU fan, said: “I’ve been around. Before long it’s going to be just like the Southwest Conference days.”
Those were not fond memories.
He may be correct now, but here is where he’s wrong — Baylor was never like this back in the Southwest Conference days. Not like this.
Baylor’s reality may be a source of irritation to TCU, but it should also provide solace and hope. Sentences never thought to be written 10 years ago: Just do what Baylor did. Once you catch Baylor, you’re home because that means you are on top, or close to it.
At one time, the Bears were the ugly stepchild of the Big 12. The last one in. Impossible to even conceive in 1996, but Baylor has reached a point where we expect them to be able to hang with anybody, in anything. Before the football team rolled over in the Fiesta Bowl, Baylor had a football program and two basketball teams ranked in the top 10.
TCU may compare itself in the standings to Baylor, Texas Tech and the other Big 12 schools, but it’s almost unfair. All of these conference members except West Virginia have been at this thing in this league since it was formed in 1996.
“I look more at where Utah is in the Pac-12,” Del Conte said.
Like TCU, Utah rolled in the Mountain West.
In Utah’s first season in the Pac-12 in football, it was a respectable 8-5. In each of the past two years, the Utes were 5-7. Men’s basketball has not had a winning record yet. Other sports have been here and there with winning.
TCU is closer today to being competitive throughout in a way Baylor was not in ’96. Having already spent a small fortune upgrading its facilities in everything but basketball, which is in the process of happening.
“You cannot quantify what the success of our athletic department has done for the school,” Baylor President Ken Starr said. “TCU knows from its wonderful run to the Rose Bowl.”
Which put TCU into the Big 12. Now there is the matter of getting back to a stage that grand. Against far greater competition. Bottom line, TCU just needs better players.
Eighteen months into its existence in the Big 12, it has become apparent the jump from the MWC is much greater than even the most optimistic Horned Frog projected.
There is hope, however — just catch Baylor.