With an enrollment of just over 10,000 students in 2017, TCU is the smallest school in the Big 12 by more than 5,000 students. But that hasn’t stopped the Horned Frogs from bringing in consistent national viewership ratings.
Gary Patterson’s team has finished with the second- or third-highest television rating among Big 12 schools in six of eight conference games through Nov. 18, according to data complied by Sports Media Watch.
“I think people root for the underdog and have seen a school that is able to compete against the big boys on a week-to-week basis, and that is a unique story,” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte.
The Horned Frogs ranked among the weekend’s 10 highest-rated games three times: in Week 11 against No. 5 Oklahoma (1.8 rating), Week 9 at No. 25 Iowa State (1.8) and Week 4 at No. 6 Oklahoma State (1.5).
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The rating for that 14-7 loss to the Cyclones was particularly impressive when you consider that game was going head-to-head with a thrilling back-and-forth battle that saw then-No. 6 Ohio State top then-No. 2 Penn State by one point at the Horseshoe in Columbus.
The contest between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes brought in a seismic 5.75 rating on Fox, which remains one of the highest-rated games of the season.
Of course, TCU’s national brand continues to grow as the Horned Frogs rack up wins. TCU has won 10 or more games 11 times under Patterson. He is in his 17th season as head coach.
Last week, the school gave Patterson a contract extension that will keep him with the program through 2023 football season. The deal is also likely to cement his status as one of the top-10 highest paid head coaches in all of college football.
“We were really young last year, but coach Patterson was really confident in the team that he had coming back and you can see that the program galvanized this year,” Del Conte said. “It’s to be expected considering the program he’s built, but we’re older and wiser as he would tell you.”
When TCU finally became a member of the Big 12 in 2012, the Horned Frogs wasted no time getting to work. In just three short years, Patterson claimed a share of the Big 12 title in 2014 when his team finished 12-1 overall, and 8-1 in the conference. In Del Conte’s view, years of collecting high-profile wins helped build the program into the brand that it is today.
TCU notched an upset at No.7 Oklahoma in 2005, earned a bid to the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and, most important, capped a 13-0 season with a win over No. 5 Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl, thus earning a No.2 ranking in the final AP poll.
“We started beating these big name teams along our journey that gave credence to the culture that we had, and the ability of what we were doing,” he said.
TCU had a few puzzlingly low ratings this season.
The Horned Frogs’ matchup against Texas (a school so popular that it has its own network) produced a 1.1 rating on ESPN, which was good for just the 14th best rating nationally that week.
TCU fans have often lamented that their team hasn’t been given the proper respect from the networks. The Frogs took part in three nationally televised games in prime time, including a particularly obvious ratings dump against Kansas, one of the worst teams in all of college football.
Del Conte doesn’t believe he and his program have been shown any disrespect. And for a guy whose job requires him to always be looking forward, the TCU athletic director took a moment to recognize just how far the program has come in such a short period of time.
Since the dissolution of the Southwest Conference in the spring of 1996, TCU was a member of four conferences (they never actually played a game in the Big East), before it joined the Big 12 in 2012.
“To see the transformation of our national story is special,” Del Conte said.