Win or lose last weekend in College Station, TCU had already won.
Its baseball team was on prime-time TV for three straight nights, playing on ESPN or ESPN2, at an ideal time for viewers who had been outside all day and were ready to settle in with a game.
“Spectacular,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “You can’t buy that publicity and the exciting way we’re playing.”
The Horned Frogs won that series against the Aggies two games to one and advanced to the sport’s most visible event — the College World Series — further elevating one of the two sports they’re best known for.
“I tell everyone, ‘The enterprise is in football, the brand is in baseball,’ ” Del Conte said. “It just goes hand-in-hand.”
Remember where we were. ... Our successes were in football and baseball, and they rose the entire athletic program.
Athletic director Chris Del Conte, on TCU pre-Big 12
Both sports helped Del Conte build a case for TCU entering the Big 12, and he has not forgotten baseball’s contribution. The school has renovated Lupton Stadium three consecutive years and is poised to give coach Jim Schlossnagle a second contract extension in less than three seasons.
“Remember where we were,” Del Conte said. “When we got left out of the Southwest Conference and we were building our way back up, we were building our way up one sport at a time, hoping to get a chance to get into the Big 12. Our successes were in football and baseball, and they rose the entire athletic program.”
Schlossnagle has rewarded the investments with three consecutive College World Series appearances, a Big 12 regular season championship and two Big 12 tournament championships.
Sunday , the Horned Frogs open in Omaha with a 2 p.m. first pitch against Texas Tech, powered by one of the most recognized college hitters in the country, Luken Baker, and unmistakable 6-foot-9 right-hander Brian Howard.
As much as football, TCU says baseball.
“I’m pretty proud of that,” Schlossnagle said. “My No. 1 goal when I took this job was to try and build a baseball program that was relevant in the community. It wasn’t to win a national championship. I think that will be a byproduct.”
Since joining the Big 12, TCU football has a .667 winning percentage (34-17) with a share of a league championship. TCU baseball has a .694 winning percentage (175-77) with a regular-season league title and two league tournament titles.
TCU moved quickly to offer Schlossnagle an extension. Even before the Super Regional against Texas A&M was played, Del Conte and chancellor Victor Boschini called in Schlossnagle, aware that his name had popped up quickly when the Texas baseball job came open.
“I work for a chancellor and an athletic director that are proactive, not reactive,” Schlossnagle said. “That’s one of the best things about being here. I’ve never asked for a raise; I’ve never asked for a contract extension. I’ve always said, ‘Just reward us when we succeed, whether it be doing something for the stadium or personally.’
“I’ve had three ADs that have been great, but Chris is the best, no doubt about it. Especially in that area, in rewarding success. And he does that with all of our sports.”
On campus, the baseball players have some name recognition, too, despite media attention that is a fraction of football’s until postseason.
“People say, ‘Hey, guys, good luck.’ People know who we are,” first baseman Connor Wanhanen said. “It’s kind of cool because you’ve got a chance to be a role model and also some notoriety around campus.”
4 College World Series appearances since 2010 for TCU and three as a member of the Big 12. The Horned Frogs are responsible for three of the past seven appearances in Omaha by Big 12 teams.
Few schools can make baseball a profit producer. Football and men’s basketball bring in the money for athletic departments everywhere.
But Del Conte considers baseball worth it in Fort Worth.
“TCU baseball brings in a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’d be disingenuous to say it operates in the black when you consider tuition is really high, salaries are really high, travel is really high. But what they do is not the revenue, it’s everything that goes with that.
“Omaha three years running? You can’t buy that publicity. You can’t buy that press.”
TCU vs. Texas Tech
2 p.m. today, ESPNU
▪ Oklahoma State 1, UC Santa Barbara 0
▪ Miami xx, Arizona xx