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Matt Strasen, Associated Press
In this photo taken Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, TCU head coach Gary Patterson runs onto the field with his team before an NCAA college football game against SMU in Fort Worth, Texas. Leaders of the Big 12 Conference cleared the way Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, to add TCU, a move that would bring in a rising program and potentially shore up a league that seemed ready to fall apart just a few weeks ago.

FORT WORTH, Texas — In the mid-1990s, TCU was excluded from the Big 12 while its former rivals were invited to the new league.

Instead of hanging their heads, the Horned Frogs — who have since been a part of three conferences — kept building athletic programs and upgrading facilities, culminating in a Rose Bowl victory to cap off a perfect 2010 season.

Then the Big 12 finally came a' calling.

TCU's board of trustees unanimously voted Monday to accept the Big 12's invitation to join, a move athletic director Chris Del Conte compared to arriving at "the promised land" in the wake of the university's disappointments through the years.

"This is living proof that dreams do come true," Del Conte said Monday night, fighting back tears. "We worked so hard to be here."

Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. made the expected announcement in front a packed room of more than 200 people.

The move could provide some much-needed stability for the Big 12, which lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) over the summer and will lose Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference next year. Missouri is also exploring a move to the SEC.

Without any further changes, adding TCU will give the conference 10 members going into next season.

Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas told the crowd Monday that TCU has an outstanding record of academics as well as athletics.

"Chancellor, TCU has traveled a long path, been to different places. Sir, I'd like to welcome you home," Neinas said.

TCU has a strong football background that includes celebrated athletes from the 1930s, including Heisman Trophy winner Davey O'Brien and All-American Sammy Baugh, who both played in the NFL. More recent alums include New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

The Horned Frogs went 13-0 last season and also went undefeated in 2009 before losing to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

"It was a challenge winning the Rose Bowl ... and there's been a lot of people that told us we couldn't do a lot of different things, and so we're going to take it one step at a time," football coach Gary Patterson said after the announcement. "It's not going to be easy ... but I do believe that if the Big 12 did not feel like we couldn't be competitive in the league, then they wouldn't have asked us."

TCU currently competes in the Mountain West Conference and was set to join the Big East next July. Instead, the Big 12 went public with its interest in TCU last week and set the stage for the private university to stay closer to home. It officially joins the Big 12 on July 1.

Del Conte said TCU will not be required to give the 27 months' notice to leave the Big East but must pay the exit fee. He declined to confirm if it was the $5 million required by Big East policy.

Several Big 12 coaches said having TCU in the league would be great.

"I've always thought that if we had teams that exited or departed our league that TCU would be a great addition, with the market right there," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "They have competed and won as many games in football as just about anybody in the country in the last three or four years. It won't be an easy opponent for us to have to play them, and they're obviously sitting right there in a very valuable recruiting market."

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Also Monday, Big East school leaders authorized the conference to add enough members to have 12 teams for football. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East would be down to six football schools without TCU: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Rutgers and Connecticut.

SEC leaders also met Monday for their regularly scheduled fall session but took no action on expansion. The league will have 13 members once Texas A&M joins in July, leading to speculation about whether Missouri or other schools will be added to balance things out.

AP Sports Writers Jeff Latzke in Stillwater, Okla., and Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.