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TCU remains unaffected by Big 12 turmoil

By Gil Lebreton

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Friday, Aug. 19 2011 1:20 a.m. MDT

FORT WORTH, Texas — Once again, TCU is feeling the earth move under its anxious football feet.

It knows the feeling, as would any school that stands to be a part of five different conferences over two decades.

So color the Horned Frogs curious.

Paint Texas A&M restless.

The Baylor Bears ... label them embarrassing.

And ESPN, as its announcement Thursday reminded — high school telecasts, full speed ahead — remains as obstinate as ever.

This much, though, all TCU fans should know: Coming off a Rose Bowl victory and one year away from moving into a BCS conference, TCU hasn't been in such a position of football strength since the 1950s.

If A&M leaves, the Frogs aren't moving to the Big 12 Conference. Beginning in 2012, they will join the likes of Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers and West Virginia in the Big East.

Get used to those names, for now.

"I don't think the A&M move affects the Frogs in any way," Chris Del Conte assessed. "One of the things we've always preached is that we have to take care of our own.

"In my opinion we have the best coach in America. We have a phenomenal football program and overall athletic program. All we have to do is continue to take care of business on the field.

"At the end of the day, you can't worry about what your neighbor does. You can only worry about what you can do."

Realignment among college conferences is nothing new, Del Conte correctly reminded.

The TCU athletic family doesn't take shifting leagues callously. On the contrary, the Frogs have taken each conference move as a step forward and a lesson learned.

A national ranking and 12 bowls in the last 13 seasons have finally seemed to restore the confidence that was shattered when the Southwest Conference abandoned the Frogs in 1995.

"We're in a great place," Del Conte said. "The difference between our athletic program now and when the Big 12 was formed is night and day."

It may discourage diehard alums who pine for the old SWC days, but Del Conte is not sitting by the telephone all day, waiting for the Big 12 to call.

Sources have confirmed that the Big 12 has already informed TCU that it would not be considered in the event that Texas A&M leaves.

There may be some in the athletic department who were disappointed at that news, but they shouldn't be. The Big 12's current fiscal imbalance, heightened by the $300 million that Texas will get from ESPN's Longhorn Network, is destined to manifest itself on the playing fields.

A football program that begins each year with a $15 million headstart has $15 million more to spend on its head coach's salary, on the salaries of its coordinators, on recruiting and on facilities.

The Aggies seem to realize that. As soon as the SEC finds an expansion partner, the feeling here remains that A&M's invitation will be coming.

And what happens then to the Big 12?

Again, let me offer an educated guess — the league will invite BYU. Having dipped their toes in the chilling waters of independence, the BYU family, also beholden to ESPN, would likely race to join a BCS league.

And Baylor — poor, worried Baylor — could breathe easily, for now. Adding BYU would likely save the Big 12's Fox TV deal and, in so doing, resuscitate the Big 12.

Oklahoma would become the wild card in the Big 12's fragile fiscal system. Count me among those who still can't figure out what the Sooners are plotting. It can't all be about conference loyalty.

For TCU, meanwhile, its BCS conference ship is about to come in. The lingering concern will be a possible ripple effect, should the Big East or ACC lose a team.

For now, though, the Frogs are headed to a league that they think they can be highly competitive in, a league whose next TV deal may triple the members' annual shares (to a reported possible $16 million).

Finally, TCU is about to have a seat at the adults' table, and that can't be ignored.

"All you can control is your own personal destiny," AD Del Conte said.

So let the earth move. The Frogs are accustomed to it.

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