Basketball coach Jamie Dixon helped initiate talks that led to TCU, his alma mater, joining the Big East Conference.
Dixon and TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte talked about the Horned Frogs entering the Big East when Dixon was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in mid-September.
What began as a light conversation bloomed into TCU accepting a bid for full membership to become the 17th member of the Big East Conference, effective July 1, 2012.
“Chris and I are friends,” Dixon said on Monday after a press conference for Wednesday’s City Game against Duquesne. “We go way back. We talked about it months ago.”
Dixon was visiting Dallas-Fort Worth to recruit and visit a booster. As part of the weekend, he attended the Baylor-TCU homecoming football game Sept. 18. Dixon said Del Conte was understandably skeptical at first, but Dixon, a 1987 TCU graduate and former all-Southwest Conference point guard, felt it was a good fit.
When Big East commissioner John Marinatto learned that TCU was an option, the conference and university began talks.
“There had been so much talk about adding another football team,” said Dixon said. “I think if you are going to add one, you might as well add the best. They were the best available football team. I think I had a better grasp maybe. Once you look at all the positives, you can see why we made this decision. The timing was right and the university is the perfect fit and the conference gives them the ideal fit.
“I think it’s a great thing. I’m a little biased, obviously, but it’s a great institution with great academics. They have a complete and total commitment to athletics with what they do and what they put into the programs. I think it’s a great area. We are going to the No. 4 or 5 market in the country (Dallas-Fort Worth). That’s a good thing for TV, for recruiting, for the university’s enrollment, applications, admissions.”
The conference change allows TCU to play in an automatic BCS-qualifying league beginning in the 2012-13 school year. TCU currently plays in the Mountain West Conference, which does not have an automatic bid to the BCS.
“Having BCS automatic-qualifying status was a priority for our football program and a great reward for the success we’ve had the last decade,” Del Conte said.
TCU, which has an enrollment of 9,142, would become the Big East’s ninth football team. The conference has extended an invitation to Villanova to become its 10th football member.
TCU is 12-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS. The Frogs are at the very least headed to the Rose Bowl. But if Auburn or Oregon lose this weekend, TCU is poised to play for a national title.
“If you don’t dream, you’re living in a memory,” Del Conte said. “Who wants to live in a memory? …This is a great time to be a Frog.”
The third-ranked Horned Frogs (12-0) wrapped up their second consecutive undefeated regular season and Mountain West title with a 66-17 victory at New Mexico on Saturday.
As for travel, Dixon downplayed the distance. Dallas-Fort Worth is a roughly 1,050-mile flight. The other longest Big East flights from Pittsburgh are Tampa (875 miles) and Providence (460).
“People don’t realize it’s not that much farther than anything else,” Dixon said. “It’s a two-and-a-half hour flight. You are going to fly to most other places. It’s just another half-hour on the plane.”
TCU’s admittance gives the league 17 schools in all sports (except football), and will spur a change from the current 18-game basketball schedule. Under the new system, each team will play every other team (16 games) and have two repeat opponents instead of three.
Pitt will lose a game against a lower-level team with the new schedule. In the old format, Pitt, for example, would play cross-over games against a main rival, a top-level team and a low-level team. For Pitt this season, that meant West Virginia, Villanova and South Florida. Under the anticipated new format, the lower-level repeat opponent (USF) will be scraped.
“Sixteen (teams) worked fine and 17 (teams) doesn’t bring too many changes,” Dixon said. “What’s happened has worked and what’s happened here is definitely going to work in a lot of areas. I can’t see any real negatives to it.”