FORT WORTH, Texas -- I'd been to TCU before, covering both baseball and basketball at different times over the past few years.
However, I've never covered or attended a football game at TCU or really gotten a good look at the stadium and facilities. That changed on Tuesday, when I made my first football-specific visit to campus and got a tour from team spokesman Mark Cohen.
So, what was the verdict?
Here's a few thoughts:
First things first: How does TCU stack up? Quite well. Texas and Oklahoma are the gold standards in the Big 12, and other than the lack of an indoor facility (which is admittedly a pretty big deal), Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are right there with them. Facilities aren't all about the bottom-line attendance number in your stadium. TCU isn't on the level of those four teams, but the Horned Frogs won't enter the Big 12 with any huge needs in football. They're right on with the rest of the league in facilities, if not better in some areas. The Horned Frogs will open a brand-new locker room in late July or August, and though I doubt it'll be on the level of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or Texas, it's sure to be a solid addition.
The indoor facility is large and high-quality, just as good as what Oklahoma has, and better than Texas' bubble alongside I-35. The first Big 12 logo on campus actually went up in TCU's indoor facility, which like many others, has the program's bowl games, award winners and All-Americans honored on the walls of the facility.
Doubt the quality of the indoor facility? Well, it seemed to be OK for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who used it to prepare for (and lose, but never mind that) Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. TCU actually went out of its way to paint the end zones on the outdoor practice fields like the Steelers' home end zones, but then the infamous ice storm happened and coated the campus white. The Steelers never got to see the paint job.
TCU also has a new 20,000-square-foot weight room that can fit multiple teams. Former players come back often to use it, too. In fact, on Tuesday, former TCU LB Tank Carder was getting a workout in with some former teammates in preparation for the draft.
The new stadium won't be big -- capacity is set for 45,000 -- but it should be one of the nicest in the league when it's finished. Easily in the top third. The same group that designed Cowboys Stadium designed the $164 million upgrades to Amon G. Carter Stadium, which has 20 rows ringing the lower bowl before giving way to six $15 million suites on the west side that are just 20 rows up. Nobody else in the Big 12 has anything like that. On the east side, the first 20 rows will be all students from goal line to goal line, similar to what you'd see at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That'll pay off, and the stadium is mostly bowled in now, which should make it quite a bit louder. You can see an interactive design mockup of what it'll look like on TCU's website. (Give it a bit to load.)
This whole Big 12 thing isn't just a one-way deal. The Big 12 needed TCU, and TCU wanted the Big 12 badly, but the league picks up another big positive. I'll let TCU coach Gary Patterson explain, and I'd second everything he said. "In a lot of ways, TCU is the best destination in the Big 12. Austin is pretty good, very crowded on the freeways but you’ve got a chance to come here on a Wednesday if you’re from Iowa State, and go to a Ranger game early in the season, go to the Galleria, play two days of golf, go out to eat, go to the Stockyards, go downtown, then watch the TCU game and watch the Cowboys on Sunday. Then people want to come back. It’s a slam dunk for Fort Worth and TCU."
Patterson also added that like the Super Bowl, it's up to Fort Worth to hold up its end of the bargain for incoming Big 12 fans. "We’ve got to do our part on and off the field as a university and as a city, but just like preparing for the Super Bowl, we should be preparing for the Big 12. And I think we are. The city is preparing. TCU is preparing and my job is to prepare the football team, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now."
TCU had recruits in town this week, and as has become a recent custom, all the TVs in the facility were playing the 2011 Rose Bowl on repeat, when TCU upset Wisconsin. Nice touch, Frogs.
In the wake of the Declan Sullivan tragedy at Notre Dame, TCU installed four permanent practice video towers on its practice fields. There's a lot of interest in this around the Big 12, but not everybody's gotten around to installing them.
Look for TCU to unveil some new flashy uniforms from Nike in the coming months. The company has big plans for the Frogs, who already had a special helmet for the Rose Bowl and have worn Pro Combat unis in the past.