Gil LeBreton

After Big 12 vote, TCU needs to continue winning

One of TCU coach Gary Patterson’s favorite fair-catch signals is to stand at the podium after a victory, even a major one over a Texas or a West Virginia, and chalk it up as being one notch closer to becoming bowl-eligible.

A brief homily on the gravity of bowl games usually ensues.

But most coaches who’ve won Rose Bowl games and conference championships know they aren’t being paid just to earn an invitation to the GoDaddy or Famous Idaho Potato bowls. TCU didn’t get asked to join the Big 12 Conference just by being masters of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Teams have to win, preferably at least nine or 10 times per season, and Patterson knows that.

That fact was subtly buried in the verbal never-mind that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Oklahoma President David Boren issued Monday in announcing there would be no conference expansion.

The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners own permanent immunity from that requirement. But for the Horned Frogs, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the best advice is to keep winning, or hope the Longhorns and Sooners remain happy.

As Patterson noted at his weekly press conference Tuesday, the Frogs’ remaining schedule consists of two “three-game seasons.”

The first “season” begins Saturday at undefeated West Virginia and will continue against Texas Tech and Baylor. An open date will proceed the final three games against Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State.

Can the Frogs run the table? It’s not such a silly question.

As Patterson said Tuesday, “It’s hard to win ballgames.

“It’s a three-week sprint, another off week, then another three-week sprint. You’ve got to get ready to play.”

During the press conference, Patterson understandably was asked about the conference’s Monday decision against expansion. Just as understandably, he declined to get involved.

In rejecting to expand to 12, maybe 14 teams, the Big 12 not only did an underhanded disservice to the schools who campaigned for invitations, but it also failed to solve its most festering issue.

Namely, what are Texas and Oklahoma going to do when the league’s current TV contracts expire in 2024?

That’s what should have been resolved, somehow, at Monday’s meeting, not how to gently let down Houston and BYU.

Boren’s personal 180-degree pivot on expansion is particularly disconcerting. After once describing the Big 12 as “psychologically disadvantaged” for having only 10 teams, Boren joined with the others in a reportedly orchestrated unanimous “no” vote.

Can the Big 12 survive without Texas and Oklahoma? Not likely.

Can TCU survive? Maybe, but it will have to remain attractive enough to a new suitor when and if the Sooners and Longhorns run off into the night.

Attractiveness, in this case, will be defined as winning nine or 10 football games each season and remaining nationally relevant.

The Frogs opened the season as the No. 13-ranked team in the nation. Two losses have dropped them from the Top 25.

But think about it. Without having a field goal blocked, the Frogs would have beaten Arkansas in regulation time. They would have their runners-up Big 12 fates — and maybe a New Year’s Six bowl berth — in their own hands going into the final six games.

Speculation will follow the Big 12’s announcement. It won’t help recruiting for anybody not named Texas or Oklahoma.

The national consensus is that the Sooners and Longhorns will be playing one day in an expanded Pac-16.

The Frogs? They need to remain attractive enough to join Houston in a 16-team Southeastern Conference.

Don’t laugh. That would bring two major markets into the SEC’s TV footprint.

It’s all about continuing to win and finding the right chair when the music suddenly stops.

Bowl-eligible is nice. Perennially relevant makes for a better calling card.

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