Commentary

TCU put in work and now it's paying off

Big 12 invitation validates effort made by Frogs since conference left them out

Updated: October 7, 2011, 2:50 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Just a typical week at TCU.

Coach Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs lost to rival SMU on Saturday for just their third home loss in a decade. On Tuesday, Patterson blasted the Conference USA officiating crew and then ripped June Jones and the Mustangs.

And in a whirlwind Thursday morning, the Frogs' prince finally arrived and, believe it or not, the darn thing was dressed up like Bevo. TCU will leave the Mountain West Conference as planned, but the road to the Big East is apparently only a detour to -- say it all at once -- Hallelujah, the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesGary Patterson's Horned Frogs own a Rose Bowl trophy and a 6-4 record against current Big 12 teams.

Remarkable.

Gone are the Huskers, the Buffs and the Aggies, but the Frogs, flung aside by this bunch way back when, are in like Flynn.

Christmas cards are in the mail -- with an extra one addressed to the Longhorn Network.

Give Patterson and TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte this: They stood firm in the belief that the Frogs would not be denied their due as a major conference member. No matter how the twisted winds of conference realignment huffed and puffed and threatened to blow their house down, neither ever wavered.

"All you can control is your own destiny," Del Conte said several weeks ago. "And what I mean by that is that as long as we continue to invest, as long as we continue to be successful on the playing fields across the board, good teams will always be wanted. That's all we have. That's all that's in our control."

This time around, TCU's house is not built of straw or sticks to be easily cast aside. No, this house is now solid brick: sparkling facilities as good as any in America; a stadium undergoing a $143 million renovation that will be expandable up to 50,000; and a Rose Bowl pedigree.

For every argument that the Big 12 erred by excluding TCU after the death of the Southwest Conference, a better one can be made -- and TCU people make it -- that the exclusion finally kicked the university into gear.

Apathy was rooted out. Action, starting in 1997 with the vision of former athletic director Eric Hyman and then-provost William Koehler, still rules the day.

Patterson's coaching chops, growing the Frogs into a perennial BCS-buster and a national headliner, kept the wheel of momentum churning and ignited TCU's relatively small alumni base to become major supporters, and more importantly, contributors.

Without the wins first and foremost, the outside dollars necessary to build facilities and to compete in major college football never arrive. Internal commitment spurred the movement. Current SMU leadership knows its administration sat on the sidelines far too long.

SMU athletic director Steve Orsini made a public plea for his school to be included in Big 12 expansion, arguing a city the size of Dallas deserved big-time college athletics. Instead, it is TCU and Fort Worth on the verge of bringing the Metroplex its first Big 12 team.

When Oklahoma comes to town next season for its scheduled game against the Frogs, pocket schedules everywhere will be altered to show an asterisk signifying conference game.

Who pegged the Frogs as linchpin for two conferences' fates? The Big 12, back to 10 teams, gets back on its feet; the Big East, down to six football-playing schools, is on bent knees.

Condolence cards from Fort Worth are on their way to the East Coast.

TCU's central figures kept mostly mum on this historic day. Only chancellor Victor Boschini acknowledged in a release that talks have begun with the Big 12.

Del Conte cut off his phone after morning meetings to discuss the move, and Patterson kept his focus on Saturday's meeting with San Diego State.

Patterson knows his challenges at TCU have been many, but the road ahead will serve as his greatest. He's won as the aspiring underdog, but now he has joined the big dogs and will be expected to keep winning much more than he loses.

Truth be told, Patterson might have preferred the Big East's path of least BCS resistance. He just swapped Louisville, West Virginia and Connecticut for Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and on a good day Texas Tech and Baylor.

Patterson's $3 million-plus salary is certainly Big 12-ready. The question is, will his program be?

Asked some time ago if his team could compete in the Big 12 -- which at the time still included Texas A&M -- Patterson quickly answered yes.

"Here's the difference," he said. "When you put us in there, then your depth is a lot bigger. If you put us in there, maybe not the first year, but in three years if you're doing the things you need to do -- because obviously we've shown that we can play with those people -- the difference is it's not that you would have better players, it's that you would have more depth."

Since 2004, Patterson's Frogs are 6-4 against current Big 12 members, including the gem in 2005 at Oklahoma, one of only two losses Bob Stoops' Sooners have suffered at home.

As a "little sister" program, those games are significant singular events within a season as opposed to part of the week-in, week-out conference slate. And that is the great argument Patterson and TCU will work to debunk: Throw TCU, Utah or Boise State into a big-boy league and watch it stop competing for BCS berths and start competing to stay out of the cellar.

"People have asked me, would you recruit differently?" Patterson said. "No, I like the players I have. Now, would I have more depth? Would I have more good players? Yeah. There's a difference there."

Former TCU conference mate Utah is in its first season in the Pac-12. The Utes are 0-2 in league play, losing to unranked USC (23-14) and Washington (31-14). No. 22 Arizona State is up next.

Patterson once provided this argument for why the Big 12 wanted no part of the Frogs:

"Now that you've added all the facilities that we have and now a new stadium, new weight room, everything across campus is new, as another person you'd be worried about letting them in the Big 12 or doing any of those kind of things because we have now built ourselves up to be different."

So much hard work went into seeing this day. Yet, the work has only just begun.

What a week.

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.

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