FORT WORTH, Texas -- These are anxious days for college athletic directors and that includes TCU's Chris Del Conte, whose school believed it had elevated to a rosy -- and relatively stable -- future just nine months ago when it joined the Big East Conference.
Suddenly Del Conte says he is as much seismologist as athletic director, constantly on the phone with colleagues trying to determine when rumblings begun by Texas A&M's imminent exit from the Big 12, and exacerbated last weekend by Oklahoma's westward leaning, will become a full-blown earthquake that ultimately re-shapes the conference landscape.
No one knows how many dominoes will fall or where, but there is hand-wringing going on at TCU and other institutions that fear becoming victims, or outcasts, of a super-conference era when the dust finally settles.
"You just don't know what the cascading effects are going to be," Del Conte said. "Right now we know who our members are (in the Big East). We know what has happened. We know all the moving parts. What makes you nervous is the unknown. What's the ripple effect of these things? That's what makes you nervous because if the theory does go to super conferences, we are all left to pontificate."
TCU is in a far more enviable spot than Conference USA neighbor SMU, or even BCS-busting sidekick Boise State because the Frogs are set to become the Big East Conference's ninth football-playing member in 2012. The Big East is one of six conferences with automatic qualifier status into BCS bowl games.
That's assuming the Big East survives the coming tumult. Del Conte believes TCU sits in a position of strength heading to the Big East. The conference is in television negotiations and depending on how the dominoes fall, the Big East could further strengthen itself with additions.
"I will say this, everything right now in this college landscape is in play," Del Conte said.
One possibility is the Big East turns predatory and adds members once A&M is officially accepted by the SEC, Oklahoma makes its decision and whatever wave of change is then ignited across the land. Last summer, when the Big 12 was on the brink of destruction, the Big East discussed bringing in Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State.
"You want the conference to stay as a BCS conference. You don't know who your members are going to be. You don't know how the Pac-12 is going to react, the Big Ten, the ACC. It's unstable because of the cascading effect," Del Conte said. "Say the Pac-12 goes to 16 (teams), does that mean the SEC has to react and pick four? If that's the case what does the ACC do? What does the Big Ten do? So, this is the cascading effects that we don't know about."
Since its final football game in the defunct Southwest Conference in the fall of 1995, TCU has competed in the WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West Conference. With the Big 12 having rebuffed any overture from TCU to join the BCS league in its own backyard, the Frogs hoped the Big East would serve as a long-term home.
The high-fives going around when TCU joined the Big East last November have quickly become a lot of crossed fingers.
The SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and schools such as Texas and Oklahoma are riding in positions of strength. Everyone else is feeling vulnerable.
"The uneasiness is we don't know what everyone's going to do," Del Conte said. "Say there's five remaining schools in the Big 12. Where do they go? Everyone is nervous because everyone is trying to figure the puzzle out and only a few teams hold the cards. Everyone else is at the table with no cards. They're just waiting to be dealt their hand."
Jeff Caplan is a columnist and reporter for ESPNDallas.com.