Mac Engel

With power league on horizon, TCU’s future bright, uncertain

Gary Patterson’s most important contribution at TCU has been the school’s inclusion and success in the Big 12.
Gary Patterson’s most important contribution at TCU has been the school’s inclusion and success in the Big 12. Star-Telegram

Given TCU’s history it would be only fitting if the Big 12 broke up and the school winds up in yet another league by the end of the decade. Think Pac-12 … North Division.

The start of the college football season is less than two weeks away and the predominant story line of the Big 12 is not Oklahoma, TCU or Texas but its proposed expansion, continued dysfunction and inevitable destruction.

While all things Sooner and Bevo are protected brands that are ensured to have multiple suitors in either direction, the rest of the league looks like Gabby Douglas celebrating her teammates’ gold medal in Rio.

Will the Big 12 add Houston, Colorado State, Cincinnati, Memphis or BYU? Or will it add none of the above when the TV network executives that write the fat rights fee contracts bully the league into staying at 10?

“Being at all the different conferences at TCU, I really haven’t worried about it,” TCU football coach Gary Patterson said Wednesday after practice. “If they want to add, they can add. I don’t know if they have to.”

They don’t, but since when has that ever stopped anyone?

Armed with another extension that will take him through the 2022 season when he will be 62 years old, GP really doesn’t have to sweat any of this. With a statue and a bunch of hardware that was unimaginable when he was hired in 2001, the man’s legacy at the school and in this community are secure.

Preparing for his 17th season at TCU, his parting achievement to his employer does not have to be a Heisman Trophy winner, or even a national title, but inclusion into the club the next time major realignment in college athletics occurs because another round of cuts is coming.

“I heard from a CEO from a very big corporation is where we are screwing up is we shouldn’t have SEC, Big Ten or whatever,” GP said. “We should all be put in one package.”

He means one TV package. It will take at least eight years, but college football peeps are preparing for this adjustment.

It took the crooks who run college football’s postseason forever to finally see the free money by creating a playoff, but a singular all-encompassing power college football league will eventually happen.

Go ahead and call it the NFL D League, where the players are paid under the table and can attend class if they want.

In following the similar premise based on Big Banks throughout the United States, the threat of construction of an even more exclusive Power 5 looms ominously in the distance for schools such as TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and ... well, basically all but two members of the Big 12.

The key for TCU, or Baylor or Texas Tech, is to be a part of that package. That type of package is the next step in college football, and it will create a further divide in Division I athletics that is already alarmingly absurd.

If you thought the fight to be in a Power Five league was expensive, nasty and intense, wait until the university presidents and conference commissioners who run these power leagues ponder further consolidation when there is a chance at a bigger dollar amount.

Since former SEC boss Roy Kramer and his buddies created the BCS in 1998, college football has been a slow process of eliminating the schools that are not big revenue producers, or potential cash meccas. In the business world, it’s called trimming the fat.

There are only 65 schools in the Power Five, and yet there is still plenty of fat to be cut.

Kansas football. Indiana football. Washington State football (sorry, Coach Leach). Kansas football. After Bill Snyder retires, Kansas State football. Minnesota football. Iowa State football. Did I mention Kansas football?

“I think you will probably see 55 to 60,” GP said.

Using GP’s estimation, that means five to 10 schools would be dropped from the current Power Five. If the university presidents and conference bosses want to be greedy — which seldom happens — they could choose to be more exclusive.

With a total enrollment of a little more than 10,000, and a small alumni base and an on campus stadium of less than 50,000, from a numbers standpoint TCU is not a guarantee to make the cut.

Neither is Baylor. Or Duke. Northwestern. Name a small, private school — other than Notre Dame — and the numbers make some schools more vulnerable than others.

The only way around this statistical obstacle for TCU is to continue to make its football team relevant. These types of mergers and acquisitions are heavily influenced by timing, and if for some reason the Frogs are in a downturn they will be highly susceptible to exclusion.

As long as the Big 12 insists on living as a fractured partnership where two schools flaunt their importance over the rest, league members will nervously plan their respective futures.

Despite all of TCU’s cash, success and creation of more T-shirt fans, it is not Texas, Ohio State, Florida or USC. Those respective teams can lose at will and are protected.

TCU has no such protections, so it must win.

GP’s most important contribution to TCU is not a Rose Bowl win or a Fiesta Bowl invite but rather inclusion into the Big 12. His parting gift would be to have a team good enough to force the college football power brokers to include it into the NFL D League when that inevitable creation occurs.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram