FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 on Monday night, seizing an opportunity to be a part of a conference with natural geographic rivals despite the league’s recent instability.
The board of trustees unanimously approved the move and Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. made the expected announcement in front a packed room of more than 200 people. Athletic director Chris Del Conte fought back tears as he recalled receiving the phone call from the Horned Frogs’ new conference last week.
“This is living proof that dreams do come true,” he said.
The move could provide some much-needed stability for the Big 12, which lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) over the summer and will lose Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference next year. Missouri is also exploring a move to the SEC.
TCU has a strong football background that includes celebrated athletes from the 1930s — including Heisman Trophy winner Davey O’Brien and All-American Sammy Baugh, who both played in the NFL. More recent alums include New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Horned Frogs went 13-0 last season and won the Rose Bowl. They also went undefeated in the 2009 regular season, then lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
“It was a challenge winning the Rose Bowl … and there’s been a lot of people that told us we couldn’t do a lot of different things, and so we’re going to take it one step at a time,” football coach Gary Patterson said after the announcement. “It’s not going to be easy … but I do believe that if the Big 12 did not feel like we couldn’t be competitive in the league, then they wouldn’t have asked us.”
Patterson said the financial benefit of being in the Big 12 and resuming those rivalries also will help Fort Worth.
“Are you going to win 10 to 12 games every year? Probably not,” Patterson said. “But the key is … to have a chance to challenge for the conference title, always try to get back to bowl games, and that’s going to be our goal is to do it like we’ve always done it: one game at a time.”
Big 12 Interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas told the crowd that TCU has an outstanding academic record as well as athletics.
“Chancellor, TCU has traveled a long path, been to different places. Sir, I’d like to welcome you home,” Neinas said.
TCU currently competes in the Mountain West Conference and was set to join the Big East next July. Instead, the Big 12 went public with its interest in TCU last week and set the stage for the private university to stay closer to home. It officially joins the Big 12 on July 1.
Del Conte said TCU will not be required to give the 27 months’ notice to leave the Big East but must pay the exit fee. He declined to confirm it was the $5 million required by the Big East policy.
Several Big 12 coaches welcomed the idea of having TCU in the league.
“They’re an excellent program,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You see what they’ve been doing throughout the year. I love the proximity for the fans. It’s another game that’s relatively close and in this region, so I think it’s great.”
Also Monday, Big East school leaders authorized the conference to add enough members to have 12 teams for football. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East would be down to six football schools without TCU: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Rutgers and Connecticut.
SEC leaders also met Monday for their regularly scheduled fall session but took no action on expansion. The league will have 13 members once Texas A&M joins in July, leading to speculation about whether Missouri or other schools will be added to balance things out.
As for the Big 12, adding TCU would give it 10 members going into next season without further changes.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said he has “always been in favor of a Big 12 Conference with 12 teams, and two divisions and a championship.”