Standing alone in the elegant, yet cramped lobby of the Hotel Viking in Newport, R.I. in early August on the final day of the Big East’s annual pre-season football bash, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was approached by a longtime Big East media member with hand outstretched.
“Welcome to the Big East,” he said enthusiastically, smiling and shaking Del Conte’s hand.
“Glad to be aboard. Appreciate it,” said the third-year AD, who with coach Gary Patterson have overseen the transformation of the small private school in Fort Worth into Rose Bowl champions, and who nine months ago guaranteed entry into the BCS by accepting a Big East invitation beginning with the 2012 season.
It will begin yet another conference chapter for TCU after being an original member of the defunct Southwest Conference, then the WAC, Conference USA, and finally the Mountain West before heeding the call of the Big East’s Providence power brokers to provide a credible, much-needed eighth conference foe to ease scheduling headaches of finding five non-league games each year.
But will TCU definitely become a Big East member? And, if so, for how long?
Whirlwind may turn out to be too tame a word to describe the inevitable change coming to college football conferences beginning as soon as next season, and certainly in the years heading into the mid-decade.
With billions of TV dollars at stake, especially with new media players arriving to drive up rights fees, and an ever-increasing number of platforms to deliver the programming, it’s certainly not a matter of if, but when.
For the Big East, November 2012 is the timetable for when, the start of open TV negotiations for conference programming rights.
Where that will leave the Orange moving forward is as perplexing a question as the one now facing Del Conte as he watches from an up-close seat in Texas as the Big 12 implodes, while his colleague, SU’s Daryl Gross, has maintained a consistent positive stance on the ever fluid conference landscape, firmly believing that when the dust settles, the ‘Cuse will be in a good spot.
It’s no coincidence that in a summer of change in his department among senior administrators that Gross brought in two longtime close colleagues from the industry in Herman Frazier from Temple and Renee Baumgartner from Oregon to run daily operations, allowing him to focus on more big picture items including conference realignment, raising money for a 100-yard plus indoor football facility, and funds in general (assisted in that area by the third senior level hire in Floyd Little).
In the end, whether that positive situation the Orange AD refers to when all shakes out leaves SU in a much-talked about mammoth Big East conference of 12 football teams (with a conference championship game) and 20 in basketball with the addition of schools that were in the shattered Big 12, or the more rumored Eastern Seaboard super conference consisting of some sort of Big East/ACC hybrid, the one easy prediction in all of this maneuvering for TV bucks is that the future home of SU sports will not look at all like it does in the 2011-12 sports seasons.