Saturday should be for TCU what last Saturday was for Texas A&M and Kyle Field when the Aggies hosted No. 2 Clemson.
That entire day was the best of college football.
Instead, this Saturday is partially about TCU. And it’s about AT&T Stadium. And it’s about Ohio State. And it’s about the Dallas Cowboys.
Saturday will be the best, and worst, of college football.
The best: ESPN’s roving zoo that is College GameDay will again return to Fort Worth and TCU’s campus to preview No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 15 TCU.
The worst: It all moves east a few hours later to Jerry’s Night Club to play the actual game.
The biggest dividing line between the appeal of college football from pro football is the atmosphere, and as we all saw in Clemson’s win vs. the Aggies at Kyle Field, nothing tops the scene or feel of a game on campus.
TCU had the chance to make Saturday all about Fort Worth, its campus, its stadium, its brand, its fans, and its atmosphere. Instead, it made a business decision that while it’s not unique to TCU, hurts college football.
“So you don’t want me to win a national championship?”
Former TCU director of athletics Chris Del Conte’s brilliant landing of a home-and-home series with Ohio State was agreed to in the spring of 2011, when the school thought it was going to The Big East.
Not long after TCU won the Rose Bowl, he and some Ohio State administrators exchanged some playful trash talk, but it turned serious when he said, “Why don’t we get your boys to come down and play us and our boys will come up and play you?”
That Del Conte was able to convince Ohio State to leave Ohio to play a non-conference game in a stadium that seats less than 50,000 demonstrates the man’s ability to sell; he could sell crack to a crack dealer.
Del Conte arranged this home-and-home because the game was good for TCU’s brand, and it would be a guaranteed sellout. A return date would also give TCU fans a chance to watch their team play at one of the sport’s special venues.
At the time the game was scheduled, Ohio State was coached by interim Luke Fickell, who was the man between the Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer eras.
When Del Conte approached Patterson about the series, the coach said, “So you don’t want me to win a national championship?”
As a school that was then set to join the Big East, he also needed four non-conference games per year; a home-and-home with Ohio State fit.
Patterson agreed to it because, as a member of a non Power 5 conference, he knew a win, or even a close finish, could help his team more than his conference schedule that would include Syracuse, Pitt, etc.
A shift in thinking
Under intense pressure, scrutiny and criticism, in January of ‘12 the men who ran the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) reluctantly discussed a College Football Playoff system. Basically, it’s a BCS Plus-2 format.
By the time the new playoff format was announced, the Big East had collapsed and TCU had already accepted an invite to join the Big 12.
The four-playoff team system was introduced in ‘14, and in the first year of it the Horned Frogs narrowly missed an invite despite an 11-1 regular-season record.
In a controversial decision, Ohio State jumped TCU in the final rankings for an invite to the playoff. TCU finished the season 12-1 with a share of the Big 12 title, a win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, and finished third in the final AP poll. Ohio State won the national title.
Shortly after winning the Peach Bowl, Patterson and Del Conte agreed that its business plan had to change, and specifically the need to alter the home-and-home with the Buckeyes.
The Floyd Mayweather of scheduling
Patterson is the Floyd Mayweather of scheduling. The former welterweight boxing champion Mayweather, who never lost in his pro career, was maddeningly, and brilliantly, selective in selecting opponents.
Few coaches can assemble a non-conference schedule as well as GP. Patterson consistently finds middle tier Power 5 teams to play, and TCU wins.
We are talking Vanderbilt, Arizona, Northwestern, Oregon State, Virginia, Minnesota, Arkansas, etc.
When TCU played Clemson in 2009 - Dabo Sweeney’s first season as head coach there - the Frogs received a $1 million check, and Patterson knew he had the team that could win. TCU won 14-10, and reached the Fiesta Bowl that season.
The outlier was TCU’s game against SEC power LSU, which was changed from a home-and-home series to a one-gamer, also at Jerry World, in 2013. TCU lost by 10, and finished 4-8 that season.
Future non-conference opponents for TCU through 2030 include Colorado, Purdue, California, Duke, North Carolina, and Stanford.
Patterson follows the Bill Snyder plan that he established to transform Kansas State from the worst program in the nation into what was, for a prolonged period of time, a contending program.
Patterson knows that while fans clamor for Big vs. Big matchups earlier in September, what they really want is a 10-win team in December that can qualify for a nice postseason game, and, more importantly, keep both he and his staff employed with those bonuses rolling in.
TCU fans flooded the athletic department with angry calls. Justifiably.
Shortly after TCU announced its home-and-home series with Ohio State was converted to one-game in Arlington, TCU fans flooded the athletic department with angry calls and complaints. Justifiably.
The TCU season ticket holders didn’t care that both schools received $5 million each to move the game; the TCU season-ticket holder has to pay for the Ohio State game as a separate date, at a significant price increase.
This is where the business plan of the college coach versus the business plan of the college athletic department is becoming an issue.
Schools all over the nation have poured hundreds of millions into their home venues, only to “sell” their marquee matchup to a neutral site stadiums. Since the Cowboys opened AT&T Stadium, it has sought/bought/brought big college names to its house. The same now goes for stadiums in Houston and Atlanta.
Desperate for decent programming to entice eyeballs, TV pays out big money to schools to force these games.
Now, college athletic directors are desperate to fill up stadiums that are too big for the typical slate of blah non-conference games that coaches prefer to play to fatten their win total. Unless the matchup is good, fans aren’t filling up stadiums.
The TCU brand, and team, are so well regarded that ESPN and the Cowboys offered the school $5 million and make them the primetime game on Saturday night. This is a point that should not be disregarded.
Del Conte, Patterson and so many others worked hard to make this Saturday entirely about them, their home, their fans, their stadium, and their brand, on a national stage.
Saturday was TCU’s chance to show off, and instead they’re just another team that will play in Jerry’s Night Club.