Four days after presidents of six Big East schools voted unanimously to rebuild through aggressive expansion, the league found itself braced for another defection. On Thursday, the Big 12 invited TCU, which was scheduled to join the Big East next season, to join it instead.
TCU, SMU, Rice and Houston were left behind when the Big Eight merged with the Southwest Conference to form the Big 12 in 1996. And while TCU's acceptance isn't expected until today, the Big East informed current and prospective members of TCU's decision, and TCU chancellor Victor Boschini suggested the move is all but certain.
"These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU," said Boschini, whose school currently is in the Mountain West. "It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for years."
At Sunday's meeting, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said Boschini was "very positive" about joining the conference. The commissioner said Boschini "told us over and over how much he wants this conference to move forward. There was no wavering at all from him."
It will cost the Horned Frogs $5 million, the Big East's exit fee, but they can leave now instead of the required 27 months.
With Syracuse and Pittsburgh announcing Sept. 17 they were leaving the Big East for the ACC — their departure date has not been determined — the Big East could be reduced to six football-playing members: USF, Connecticut, West Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati.
"It's one of the most disappointing things I've seen in 35 years in the game to see this thing break up like this," Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. "We've stayed loyal to it all along. We've stayed loyal, and by staying loyal, we're not sure what's going to happen to us."
USF athletic director Doug Woolard declined to comment.
The NCAA requires at least eight schools for a I-A conference (though it permits a two-year grace period). But even UConn's status remains murky. Soon after Pitt and Syracuse announced its intentions, multiple media outlets reported the Huskies' desire to join the ACC.
"Nothing changes much for us," UConn president Susan Herbst told the Associated Press. "The Big East is talking with great institutions, and we'll be very competitive. And UConn is deeply involved in the larger national dialogue."
Big East presidents will hold a conference call this morning to discuss expansion, the New York Times reported. Navy has been one target, but athletic director Chet Gladchuk said it is in no hurry to decide.
"Our position remains comfortable as an independent," he said. "We've had discussions with the Big East about possible membership. We asked the Big East to stabilize. Obviously, this is a step back for them. … The issue is not ours. The issue is theirs."
East Carolina, currently in Conference USA, already has applied for membership, and its athletic director, Terry Holland, said TCU's departure doesn't deter its interest.
Other candidates previously reported are Air Force of the Mountain West, Central Florida of C-USA and Temple, formerly of the Big East now in the Mid-American Conference. Officials from those schools were not available for comment.
For the Big 12, TCU gives it 10 members — for now. The league lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) last season. Texas A&M (SEC) is leaving after this one. And Tuesday, Missouri's board of curators gave its chancellor permission to explore other conferences.
The Kansas City Star previously reported the Tigers had agreed to join the SEC. But while the Birmingham News reported Thursday that a majority of SEC schools favor them joining, the required nine votes aren't there. It reported Alabama is worried Mizzou's entry would send Auburn to the East Division, meaning Alabama's annual interdivision game would become the Iron Bowl instead of Tennessee. It wants to face both Auburn and Tennessee every season.
The Big 12 made two other moves to strengthen itself Thursday. First, it voted to equally share revenue from its TV deals for six years, with any school leaving forfeiting its entire six-year earnings. The vote was 8-0 with Missouri saying it abstained on the advice of legal counsel.
Second, the schools agreed the Longhorn Network (Texas' 20-year, $300 million venture with ESPN for which revenue won't be shared) will show neither high school games nor highlights. Conference coaches said both would give the Longhorns a recruiting advantage.
But the big news was TCU.
"We're proud that TCU has been invited to join the Big 12," Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said. "Their close proximity to all conference institutions makes for a comfortable travel situation."
South Carolina: Stephen Garcia, a graduate of Tampa's Jefferson High who was replaced as the starting quarterback this week, might not be able to back up Connor Shaw because of what the school called a minor elbow injury.
Syracuse: Defensive end Chandler Jones will miss his fifth game Saturday with what the school has called only a lower-body injury.
Tree poisoning: Glennon Threatt, the lawyer for the man accused of poisoning Auburn's Toomer's Corner oak trees, asked to withdraw from the case. He cited the comments by Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan, on a radio show Sept. 28, when he apologized to Auburn fans "for the damage I have done." He stopped short of confessing. Threatt said he advised Updyke against calling but didn't comment further pending a judge's decision on his status. Updyke's trial has not been scheduled.