TAMPA — USF football, alone on the distant frontier of the Big East for six seasons, will soon have an impressive new neighbor.
In a major coup, the Big East announced Monday that football powerhouse TCU will join the conference for all sports in summer 2012, giving the league's football reputation a major boost from its Fort Worth, Texas, campus. The Horned Frogs, 12-0 and No. 3 in the nation, have won at least 11 games in five of the past six seasons, with a 65-11 record under coach Gary Patterson since they left Conference USA in 2005.
"They have been one of the leaders in this whole BCS busters thing, and they've done it on a consistent basis," USF coach Skip Holtz said of his future rivals. "They've proven they can compete at that level and that they're deserving of being in a BCS conference. I think they'll bring an awful lot of value to the table."
TCU and USF had a strong, albeit short, rivalry as C-USA members in 2003-04. The Horned Frogs came into Tampa in 2003 and ended the Bulls' 21-game home winning streak; a year later, the Bulls pulled out a rare win in Fort Worth in double overtime, and TCU is 36-3 at home since.
The Big East has suffered through a down year. This weekend, its conference champion will have at least three losses and potentially five; the league's teams went 3-12 against teams from other BCS conferences this season, after going 11-9 in each of the previous two seasons. The addition of TCU should help the Big East avoid any talk of whether it deserves the automatic BCS berth that goes to its champion, and being in the Big East will give the Horned Frogs a new clout they might have lacked in the Mountain West Conference.
"Having BCS automatic-qualifying status was a priority for our football program and a great reward for the success we've had the last decade under Gary Patterson," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said Monday. "Keeping all our sports together was also critical. We are very excited to accomplish both these goals and look forward to our new home in the Big East Conference."
The league isn't necessarily done. Villanova, the defending Division I-AA football champion, also has a standing invitation to upgrade its program to I-A and the Big East, which would give the league 10 teams. Villanova is already a Big East member in other sports.
"Our membership is genuinely excited to add an institution of the caliber of TCU to our conference," commissioner John Marinatto said in announcing the addition. "Located in one of the top five media markets in the country, TCU also enables the Big East to extend its media footprint, which already encompasses more than a quarter of the country."
There are strong ties between USF and the league's new arrival — athletic director Doug Woolard arguably knows Del Conte better than anyone in the Big East. He hired him 20 years ago as an intern in the athletic department at Washington State.
"I gave him his first job in college athletics," said Woolard, who talked to Del Conte during the league's recent courtship of TCU. "He has done a tremendous job. Really talented guy, and we've stayed in contact ever since we worked together at Washington State."
And the Bulls can still take pride in being the farthest outpost in the Big East, if only by 200 feet. Plug the addresses for Louisville and TCU into Yahoo Maps, and the distance is 872.43 miles; plug in Louisville and USF and the Bulls are 872.47 miles away. The difference is less than a football field, which is where the two rivals will be reunited in 2012.