I have to say, I’m disappointed and a little confused to hear of TCU’s move to the Big East, a move that effectively ends any chance of changing or breaking the hegemony of the Big Six conferences over college football. Admittedly, adding Boise State isn’t quite an equal trade-off for losing Utah and BYU, but a conference with both TCU and Boise State wouldn’t fall that far from the Mountain West’s former heights. The timing of the announcement is especially auspicious considering how soon it came after Nevada’s upset win over Boise, suggesting another program approaching the same level was moving to the Mountain West with the Broncos.
I understand why the Big East gets out of the deal – access to the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas – but I’m having a hard time understanding what TCU gets, especially having to travel so far to play all their games in all sports. Sure, they join an AQ conference (as has for some reason become the new Orwellian term for what we used to call “BCS conferences”), but what does that really mean? All it really means is an automatic trip to a BCS bowl if they win the conference, which I guess is kinda a good thing, but it’s de facto the same thing they were getting in the Mountain West, only there going undefeated was a prerequisite. The Big East is, to put it bluntly, the laughingstock of the BCS conferences. While there have been years when it’s been strong and even a year or two when it’s produced national championship contenders, there have been far too many years like this one, when it’s struggled to get even a single team in the Top 25. TCU is probably as likely to go undefeated in the Big East as they were in the Mountain West, and more importantly, as likely to play for a national championship, that is, hardly. Pollsters are a bit smarter than they’re given credit for, and don’t automatically value “BCS conferences”, but rather particular conferences like the SEC perceived to have more good teams.
And while the Big East does get a foothold in Texas, the conference as a whole is becoming increasingly unwieldy – already stretched thin at 16 teams, it now just gets ridiculous at 17, pushed even further towards a split of the football and non-football schools at the same time that prospect becomes increasingly unlikely with the football side adding a team that’s Christian but not Catholic while encouraging Villanova to jump up to FBS (straight to a BCS conference, even!) for no other reason than it’s already associated with the conference. Sure, they recently won ONE FCS championship, but still, who wants to bet Villanova will prove to be as bad a fit in the Big East football conference as Temple was? I’m getting increasingly despondent at the after-effects of the ongoing realignment and the Franken-conferences it’s producing in the non-BCS; apparently the WAC’s big idea for saving itself after losing three of its best teams is to add the likes of… drum roll please… Texas State! (On the plus side, with so many FCS teams moving up to FBS, it creates more room for the NCAA to add more pointless bowl games, after raising the specter of a 5-7 bowl team with this year’s additions!)
The big loser in this is Boise State. Boise thought they were creating a non-BCS superconference with too many good teams for the BCS to ignore and not give AQ status to, and they might have had the Big 12 not stopped Texas from bolting to the Pac-10. Now they find themselves in a situation not that different from where they were in the WAC, especially with rumors the Mountain West was considering adding Hawaii, a situation basically equivalent to the WAC adding Air Force – only with arguably a worse TV contract, especially if the Mountain West sticks to form and shoves its few known-before-the-season marquee games to CBS College Sports or the mtn., but that’s an entirely different rant. Had they known this would happen, they might have just stayed in the WAC.
But what makes Boise’s situation even worse, as well as the situation of all the other non-BCS schools and BCS opponents, is that (not counting BYU) they are now the only non-BCS school that matters. The plight of the non-BCS schools has effectively been reset to the status quo before 2005. Undefeated non-BCS schools may still go to BCS bowl games, but they will likely be fewer in number and, except for Boise themselves, treated much like Hawaii in 2007, not as legitimate national championship contenders; don’t expect any non-BCS team to be #3 in the preseason polls ever again. Boise probably knows this and is chomping at the bit to leave the Mountain West for likely independence at the next opportunity, unless that experiment fails for BYU. Without the pressure from the non-BCS schools, there will be much less pressure for a playoff and the BCS status quo could last for far longer than its opponents have heretofore anticipated.
Unless, of course, TCU going undefeated in the Big East but passed over for the national championship by a 1-loss team from a better conference creates more pressure for a playoff than ever before…but it may be more likely that the BCS simply pushes TCU through, no matter how weak, and simply closes its ears to the complaints from the increasingly empty non-BCS room.