Alan Dell

Commentary: TCU's addition brings sigh of relief from USF

The collective sigh of relief you hear from across the Skyway bridge belongs to Judy Genshaft and Lee Roy Selmon.

The deal the USF president and former AD negotiated to get the school in the Big East Conference in 2005 put the football program on a path to national recognition.

All of that seemed in jeopardy recently with people squawking that the conference should not be an automatic BCS bowl qualifier.

Then along comes the Horned Frog, which is really a lizard, which resides in Texas, which is not on the East Coast, which is now in the Big East.

Forget what you learned in geography class. Open up your accounting book to find out why TCU has agreed to join the Big East.

This is about football and television and money -- EcoGridiron 101.

The Big East might have escaped the BCS guillotine without TCU, but it couldn’t run away from a continuing loss of credibility that reduces its advantage when TV contracts and bowl games are negotiated.

It had to pony up with Notre Dame to forge some bowl alliances, which might come back to bite the conference this season when the Irish take away a bowl slot that one of its teams wanted.

TCU’s presence silences the critics and puts strength back into the Big East when it goes against the TV moguls. And what’s good for the Big East is essential to the USF football program, which is the school’s revenue maker.

When the BCS re-evaluates the automatic qualifying status of conferences after 2013, TCU’s resume that includes BCS finishes of 11th in 2008, fourth last year and currently third this year will belong to the Big East.

This is a marriage made out of necessity, but no one is complaining.

Despite an undefeated season and No. 3 BCS ranking, only a missed field goal by Boise State saved TCU from likely going to a nondescript bowl. It doesn’t want to buck those odds again.

All the BCS bowls are trying to avoid the Big East qualifier as if it carried the plague. If Connecticut beats USF on Saturday, the Huskies will go. If they lose, West Virginia, the conference’s only ranked team, would get the invitation pending a victory over hapless Rutgers.

USF will have its largest fan base at least for one night. No one outside of Hartford wants UConn in a BCS bowl. The Huskies are a reminder how bad the conference has been lately.

That will change in 2012.

TCU’s move all but eliminates any chance the Mountain West Conference had to replace the Big East as an automatic qualifier or become a seventh BCS conference.

The MWC was the Big East’s biggest nightmare. Now it is the biggest loser, along with Boise State.

TCU, Utah and BYU, its marquee teams, are bolting the MWC. Boise State is coming in along with fellow WAC members Fresno State and Nevada. Think they might have a change of heart when they get to the altar?

Boise State to the Big East? Why not, Louisiana Tech is the WAC.

As the ninth football member, TCU also solves a scheduling problem for USF and the other Big East teams that can now play four home and four away conference games each season.

TCU will bring the Dallas/Fort Worth media market (fifth largest in the country), and its presence gives USF better access to players in Texas, which is among the best states at producing football talent.

All of this does heed a warning: Keep your fingers crossed because 2012 is a long way off in the college football landscape, which changes quicker than it takes to turn on your lawnmower.

The Big East will be TCU’s fifth conference since 1995, so it’s not shy about breaking relationships. But there are good reasons for all these divorces.

These Horned Frogs have been treated like second-class citizens in a state where college football belongs to the University of Texas. TCU never got a chance to join a BCS conference, getting snubbed by the Big 12 after the Southwest Conference folded in 1995.

A bonus here to football purists is that when TCU begins playing in the Big East, it might answer critics who say the Horned Frogs’ 34-2 record the past three seasons is a product of a weak schedule.

USF played TCU when they were both in Conference USA and played two close games, beating the Horned Frogs 45-44 in overtime in 2004 and losing 13-10 in ’03.

The Horned Frogs and Bulls are back in the same family along with former C-USA members Cincinnati and Louisville, reminding us of something Mark Twain once said: I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it ceased to be one.