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Leaping Frogs will feel at home in faraway Big East


It was Jamie Dixon's second miracle shot.

The idea for TCU joining the Big East came from Pittsburgh's basketball coach, who not many know played for the Horned Frogs in the 1980s. As a player, Dixon was best known for "The Miracle Shot", his desperation heave that beat Texas in 1986.

As an alumnus, he will be best known for asking: Why not TCU in the Big East? While watching a TCU-Baylor football game with TCU AD Chris Del Conte earlier this season, the idea came to Dixon. The Big East needed BCS credibility and TCU needed a more certain future.

From that discussion two months ago came the next round of conference realignment. On Monday, TCU, a school 1,500 miles from the Big East's ancestral home in New York, became the ninth Big East school in football and 17th in basketball.

"I'm always thinking about, 'What's going to happen in the conference?' Really that's where it came up," Dixon said. "We're talking and I say, 'We're going to add a team, it's going to happen. I think you guys would be great.' He looked at me like I was crazy."

And you thought the summer conference shuffle was confusing? The Big East got to this point because it lost three teams five years ago (Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College) and the Mountain West lost two teams this summer (BYU, Utah). TCU became MWC defection No. 3 this year and will begin Big East play in 2012.

The Big East becomes the school's fifth conference since 1995. Major-conference relevance trumps carpetbagging any day.

"The way it's going lately, who would have thought that Texas would be in the Pac 10?" said Del Conte, who was referring to the Pac 10's almost-successful hijacking of six Big 12 schools over the summer.

"We have a home. You can never guarantee what's going to happen in the future."

And the future had a strange look at Monday's presser. Notre Dame president John Jenkins was there to welcome TCU as chair of the league's executive committee. Breaking it down for those of you who didn't grasp the oddity: A Catholic priest from Indiana welcomed a Disciples of Christ-affiliated university from the second largest state in the union to the smallest I-A football conference in the country.

Oh, and it should be noted this was all about football except that Jenkins' school doesn't play football in the Big East, or in any conference.

To that point the best known John Jenkins in Texas was the former Houston coach who once scored 95 on a probation-depleted SMU in 1989. Apparently, it's still possible to hang a hundred (Hail Marys) on 'em.

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If you can get past the incongruities, you can get past the geography. This was about mutual survival. The Big East needed to retain its BCS automatic bid. TCU needed to be in a league that provided access to that bid. The unlikely marriage should go a long way toward solving both problems.

TCU also needed to get on ESPN. The Mountain West is underexposed on its own network (The Mtn.), Versus and CBS College Sports. More significant, the Mountain West presidents are partly to blame for Monday's developments. They wanted it this way a few years ago. They were tired of playing ESPN weeknight games. Looks like a brilliant decision, boys, keep it up.

Meanwhile, the Big East is due a TV windfall when its basketball and football deals expire in 2013.

Everything else, even Big East basketball, is secondary. So secondary that the league was obviously willing to overlook TCU's nearly invisible men's basketball attendance -- 3,686 per game last season, according to the NCAA.

No worries. Just wait until Rutgers comes to town.

As for football, TCU doesn't consistently fill its stadium and is about the fifth media option in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. That meant little to a league that doesn't consistently fill its stadiums and doesn't have a presence in Texas.

TCU is old to Texas but Texas is new to the Big East.

None of it happens without Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs' 11th-year football coach has single-handedly made TCU relevant in the modern age. By relevant, I mean Patterson staying in Fort Worth. There have been multiple chances for him to leave for richer pastures. Patterson has always been content no matter what the struggle.

Now the patience is about to pay off. TCU will become the first non-BCS school to play in consecutive BCS bowls. Those back-to-back major bowls and a 24-1 record the past two years will count for the Mountain West when a four-record evaluation for BCS membership expires for all leagues following the 2011 season.

Before that time comes, look for the Mountain West to be trolling for new members. Maybe it can lure the former school of Jenkins the coach. That's right, Houston could be the next domino to change athletic fraternities.

Meanwhile, Jamie Dixon can one day welcome his small, private alma mater from Fort Worth to its new conference's ancestral home in New York for the Big East basketball tournament.

Told you to get past the geography.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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