Not long after UCLA and USC announced their intentions to join the Big Ten, Pac-12 officials immediately began to quietly gauge the interest of others schools if they were interested in heading west to join that league.
The list includes pretty much every major school east of Salt Lake City, including TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and the usual suspects.
According to sources familiar with what are now “very preliminary” discussions, the answer is, “Maybe.”
“We should discuss this further.”
And, the worst, “That’s interesting.”
As those conversations take place, every school in the Pac-12 reached out the Big Ten in hopes they will receive an invite to that league.
Meanwhile, the schools in the Big 12 reached out to any friend they have in the Big Ten to make it known they’d like to talk, too.
“They’d like to talk” is loose for “Please, take us.”
This time one year ago TCU would have welcomed an invite to the Pac-12, which was close to happening.
With the development that USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12, and that league’s future uncertain, no one is sure college sports out west — and specifically the dreaded Pacific time zone — is desirable.
The dividing line in college sports is now the SEC and the Big Ten. They have lucrative futures. While the rest may eventually be OK, no one is sure.
Nearly all of this movement and conference realignment is engineered by Fox Sports and ESPN in their attempt to possess as much live content and potential inventory as possible.
“I think we could ultimately end up with two conferences: one called ESPN and one called Fox,” LSU chancellor Michael Martin told reporters this week.
He’s only half kidding. There is a precedence for this; CBS is the NFL’s primary network for the AFC, and Fox the NFC.
ESPN and Fox have left the remaining schools in the Pac-12, Big 12 and the ACC in a situation that could have a major impact on the universities in those leagues.
(Please note Notre Dame is not worried about a thing).
At least locally, TCU has made it known to staffers and faculty that it’s ready to do whatever necessary to remain a member of the Power 5.
According to TCU’s Board of Trustees “Retreat Outcomes” in April of 2022, one of primary goals of the school moving forward includes, “Be proactive, nimble and win, maximize placement as member of Power 5 conference in intercollegiate athletics.”
High ranking TCU officials recently relayed to select faculty members that the school is so invested in its current model that there is no Plan B.
To go in an another direction could be catastrophic, and would have a trickle down effect on salaries and compensation packages for staffers all over campus.
That message likely is as a result of discussions with the TCU Board of Trustees. The school adopted the “athletics model” in 1998, and it worked so well it became a model for other schools around the country.
It’s risky, but the sports model remains the single most effective marketing tool for universities to raise and/or maintain their profile and appeal to donors and prospective students.
One of the reasons TCU’s profile has grown from a regional name to a nationally recognized one in the last 10 years is a recruiting pitch anchored around, “Small college classrooms, individual attention from college professors and big-time college sports.”
TCU is among a small number of Power 5 schools that can make that pitch: Baylor, Wake Forest, Duke are some others.
What that identity is worth to TCU is in the hundreds of millions.
As the Big Ten will soon expand to 16 schools the prevailing thought is the league and the SEC will eventually go to 20 each.
Notre Dame is the jewel that could either save the ACC as an official conference member, or push the Big Ten to that of SEC-type revenues.
The remaining properties (previously called universities and places of higher learning) of perceived higher value include Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State.
There is no way University of Oregon co-owner and Nike founder Phil Knight will allow his beloved Ducks to become a second-tier athletic school.
Then there is a list of “tweeners” such as Virginia, Duke, Syracuse, Stanford, California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Miami, Oklahoma State, etc. TCU is in there, somewhere.
The networks just want the big, big schools with the big fan bases.
With an enrollment of just under 12,000 and a small alumni base, the appeal of TCU to a Big Ten is a place in Texas, and DFW.
There is always the real scenario where these power conferences just sell memberships to schools like a TCU, which would gladly write the check.
Other than the executives at Fox and ESPN, no one knows how this will all shake out.
TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston, Utah and the rest are doing what they can to make sure they will not be left behind, stuck in a glorified Mountain West.
There is not much any of them can do. They have to hope Fox or ESPN wants them.
If not, best be prepared to write a check and hope that works.