In TCU’s quest to transform itself into an athletic player, it has made home football games and now home baseball games a place to be, and a giant party.
Walking around the TCU baseball stadium on Monday night as the baseball team played North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament sub-regional final, the scene was a miniature version of a football home football Saturday. Tailgating. Plenty of pretty young people socializing and fretting about their busy lives. Children. Families. Die hard fans. Casual Fort Worthians there to take in a scene.
A TCU baseball game, on a smaller scale, has become a thing in Fort Worth. When TCU hosts Texas A&M in the NCAA regional final beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday in a best-of-three series, it figures to be the biggest baseball series this school has hosted ... ever.
“It will be a lot of fun to see this,” TCU infielder Evan Williams said. “For a Texas guy who grew up not liking A&M at all ever, I would love nothing more than to beat anybody to get to the College World Series, to beat A&M would be pretty great. It would be awesome. I have nothing against A&M, it was just something I grew not liking. I was not an A&M guy.”
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NCAA college baseball remains mostly a regional game rooted to the friendlier climates, and TCU has created at atmosphere on par with other top programs around the country.
With TCU football and baseball both having successfully made their respective home games a place to be, the last major sport at TCU to cross the “atmosphere barrier” is basketball.
One bridge too far? Maybe. Basketball is a beast of a sell in Texas. Despite a wealth of talent that comes from Texas, the last team from this state to win an NCAA title in men’s basketball was Texas-Western, in 1966. The more “recent” successful teams from Texas were the University of Houston, which had consecutive Final Four teams in 1983 and ’84, and the Texas Longhorns, which reached the Final Four in 2003.
Basketball is the single hardest sell for college athletic departments in this state because not only is it miles behind football in terms of popularity, it actually has to compete with baseball. The best players don’t want to stay here, and home atmospheres at places like Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and others can be slightly depressing. Even Baylor, which has had wonderful years under Scott Drew, struggles sometimes with a truly inspiring home crowd at the Farrell Center.
The one team that has made a home game in Texas a giant pain in recent years is SMU under Larry Brown. The Ponies are the outlier, and their atmosphere may be a case of need as a result of a football team that simply does not win. Nonetheless, props to the Ponies – they did it.
The saying in big-time college sports is that if “You’re a baseball school, you’re bad at basketball.”
Despite all of its success under head coach Jim Schlossnagle, TCU baseball is not a money maker for the department. That’s no knock on Schloss’; baseball is a “non-revenue” sport for a reason. College baseball, financially, is a major loser for schools.
Thanks to lucrative TV deals, men’s basketball can make real money, which is why TCU is pouring $75 million into renovating Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. That project, which was delayed because of the recent heavy rains, is still scheduled to be done by the fall in time for the season.
“We have gone through more coaches but we never given them the facilities in order to compete,” TCU director of athletics Chris Del Conte told me last week. “Now we are doing that. This was supposed to be a $45 million project, but … we wanted it to be the best. It is. It’s going to be absolutely fantastic.”
There was a time, in the late ‘90s under head coach Billy Tubbs, when a TCU basketball had an environment, and was a ticket worth having. For the better part of a decade, the scene at a basketball game has been mostly dead.
TCU is not expecting to compete with Kentucky or Duke for national titles, but at a minimum it can create a program that can run in the Big 12. At a minimum, it can create an environment that draws a crowd, that creates a scene and has buzz.
It did it with football. It did with baseball. Basketball is next.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760