AUSTIN, Texas - After more than a year of watching their league get picked apart, leaders of the Big 12 Conference finally made a proactive move Thursday by voting to add TCU as early as next season.
It was the first aggressive act by a league desperate to secure its membership amid dramatic shifts in conference affiliation. And if the Horned Frogs join the Big 12, it would be another sharp blow to the Big East, which was expecting to welcome TCU next season.
TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. suggested TCU is all but ready to join the Big 12.
“These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU,” Boschini said. “It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for years. As always, we must consider what’s best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12.”
TCU, which is leaving the Mountain West Conference, has a rising football program that won the Rose Bowl last season and will play in a sparkling new stadium next year. TCU also was a member of the old Southwest Conference that once included current Big 12 members Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor.
“We’re proud that TCU has been invited to join the Big 12,” said Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, who touted TCU’s academic and athletics success as an “excellent fit” for the Big 12.
“Their close proximity to all conference institutions makes for a comfortable travel situation.”
TCU’s move to the Big East, announced nearly a year ago, was supposed to be about stability and being in a conference with automatic access into the BCS.
But Syracuse and Pittsburgh recently stunned the Big East by announcing plans to leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Without them, and without more changes, there will be only six other football teams in the Big East before TCU gets there next season.
Big East officials declined immediate comment Thursday, but its member schools were aware of the danger a TCU move would mean for the league when it comes to football.
While Dodds and other Big 12 school officials praised the effort to land TCU, there are still big questions surrounding the conference. The Big 12 will lose Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference next season, and Missouri is also exploring a move to the SEC.
The Big 12 has been on defensive footing since the spring of 2010, when Missouri openly hoped for an invitation to the Big Ten. The Big Ten instead snatched away Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 over the summer.
Missouri did not participate in Thursday’s unanimous vote among Big 12 presidents and chancellors to open negotiations with TCU.
A telephone message seeking comment from Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton was not returned.
Although TCU would not expand the league’s television footprint, the Horned Frogs would add a Big 12 member in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which is already a rich target for Oklahoma, Baylor and others. It also would bring in a football program that boasted a 36-3 record from 2008-10 and went to BCS bowls the past two years.
The move also would be a financial windfall for TCU.
Big 12 chancellors and presidents have agreed to equally share revenue from the conference’s most lucrative television deals if member schools agree to give those top-tier rights to the league for at least six years. The agreement is subject to approval by university governing boards.
The revenue-sharing plan would give each school about $20 million in June and that figure is expected to grow by 2013 when the league’s new 13-year contract with Fox Sports kicks in. The Big 12’s contract with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016 and likely will bring in additional money when renegotiated.
TCU’s football stadium is undergoing a $143 million modernizing renovation scheduled to be completed by the 2012 opener. TCU, which got left out of the Big 12 when the league was formed in 1996, would join Baylor as the Big 12’s only private schools.
AP sportswriter Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth contributed to this report.