TCU in the Big East? For football, it makes sense
TAMPA - It's about a 1,600 mile cattle drive from the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth to New York City, heart of the Big East Conference. It takes about four hours by air, but if you want to drive it straight through you can it in about 25 hours. So at first glance, it seems downright strange that TCU has been accepted into the Big East starting in 2012. We know what's going on though, don't we? This marriage of inconvenience gives TCU's football team the legitimacy of membership in a BCS conference, and it gives the Big East a better argument to stay in the BCS in the first place. That's all that matters. Besides, having the Horned Frogs in the Big East makes as much sense -- for football, anyway -- as Colorado in the Pac-12 or 12 teams in the Big Ten. It doesn't make sense for sports like, oh, every other one besides football. Since everything is about football, though, it's cool.It's also good news in a way for University of South Florida teams. USF loses its status as the Big East's most far-flung outpost - which is saying something in a conference with 17 members in 14 states and the District of Columbia. For convenience and natural rivalry in all sports, adding Central Florida would have made more sense for USF -- although you'll never get anyone on Fowler Avenue to say that publicly. But it's not bad that USF can sell potential recruits on a chance to play in a BCS bowl while politely (or not) mentioning that UCF, uh, can't. Assuming Villanova accepts the conference request to move its football program to Division I, the Big East will have 10 football members once the Frogs start playing. That's a more workable number than the eight schools that currently compete, and adding two conference games a year will also make scheduling easier. But there's no doubt that the Bulls will have to put their big-boy pants on against a team like this. The unbeaten Frogs could play for the national title this season if Auburn stumbles in the SEC title game Saturday against South Carolina or Oregon trips against rival Oregon State. That brings up another point. TCU joined the Big East because it was fed up with having to explain to its football team why BCS politics made it almost impossible to play for the national championship. The irony, of course, is that even if TCU was in the Big East this year, the Frogs still would likely still be sitting third behind Auburn and Oregon. The Big East has been a running punch line this season for BCS critics, and those scoffers have plenty of ammo. UConn will wind up with the Big East's BCS bid if the Huskies beat USF on Saturday. That's the same UConn with a pedestrian 7-4 record that includes a 26-0 loss to Louisville and a 30-16 splat against, gulp, Temple. It's also true that these things go in cycles. While the Big East has sputtered and coughed this year, West Virginia is a perennially powerful program and Syracuse seems to be finding its way after years of wandering lost in the forest. Louisville is on the way back under Charlie Strong, Pitt is always going to be in the mix, and USF has a lot to feel good about. Bring the Horned Frogs to the party and you have the makings of a pretty tough league. Besides, if you're not proactive in this era of seismic conference shifts, you'll get pulverized. The Big Ten started all this by adding Nebraska as a 12th conference member. Colorado fled to the Pac 10 (now to be renamed the Pac 12; those folks can count) as well, even though Boulder, Colo. is about 1,110 miles from Los Angeles and the actual Pacific coast. Once Nebraska and Colorado head to their new homes, that will leave the Big 12 with 10 teams, at least for the time being. Who knows how long that will last? The 12-team Big Ten is making rumbling sounds about additional expansion as well. We may not be that far away from the Orwellian prediction of four super conferences that includes the bulk of the nation's college athletic programs. Against that backdrop, the Big East had to act. Once you get past the geographical strangeness, what the heck. Welcome aboard, TCU. Get your frequent flier programs are up to date and saddle up.