By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Go West. Then, in an attempt to consistently go big, go East.
Oh, and since another undefeated Texas Christian University college football season is being denied a chance at a national championship, feel free to go ape-shit.
"It would have been fun to see what would have happened, but that's not how it went down," said TCU quarterback Andy Dalton last Sunday night at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum after watching—along with 2,500 purple-clad supporters—the Bowl Championship Series select Auburn and Oregon to play in this year's title game. "There are two great teams playing in the national championship game. All we can do is go out and prove how we play, and hopefully people will see that."
TCU playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2011, will look surreal. A team left for dead on the side of a dusty, desolate road by the Big 12 Conference 16 years ago is now among college football's elite. It's a great story.
With a confounding ending.
For the second consecutive season, TCU is unbeaten, untied and yet somehow unauthorized to play for college football's national championship. We've kind of absorbed the ridiculousness of the BCS as an irritating way of life along the lines of traffic jams, the common cold and Ryan Seacrest, but it's at this time of year—every year—we're reminded that sports shouldn't be judged or determined but rather should be won on the field. Beauty pageants and figure skating, those are approved events chained to subjectivity. But football?
Only in major college football do undefeated teams get shut out. There are 35 bowl games this season—including games sponsored by Fight Hunger and Beef O'Brady's—and 34 of them don't mean a damn. That's because, void of a playoff system to determine a real champion, only Auburn-Oregon January 10 in Glendale, Arizona matters. The winner will be crowned mythical champion. You know your system sucks when TCU wins every game and at the end of the season is "rewarded" with a consolation chance to play in the bronze-medal game.
Because they play in the Mountain West Conference—a non-BCS conference not by choice, but rather designation—the Horned Frogs needed a loophole just to get to Pasadena. While the humans and computers combined to select the Tigers and Ducks as the two most deserving teams, TCU got its bid to a big-time bowl under a new rule requiring the Rose Bowl to pick an eligible team from a league without an automatic BCS spot once every four years if a Pac10 or Big Ten Conference team is in the national title game. Since Oregon of the Pac 10 is headed to the BCS National Championship Game, the Rose Bowl was forced to pick third-ranked TCU.
Football shouldn't be this complicated. I realize that the current system provides college football with the best regular season of any sport, but it's also saddled with the worst postseason.
Some are suggesting TCU again busting the BCS—that is, becoming the first team to play in consecutive big-time bowls despite playing in a small-potatoes conference—is some sort of triumph. But it's more of a travesty.
I'm not saying TCU has been the best team in the country the last two seasons. I am saying the fact that it doesn't get a chance to prove it is asinine and irrational, eating at the core credibility of one of America's favorite sports.
The system is so screwed up, in fact, that in 2012 TCU will pack up and move to reduce its chances of getting hosed in the future.
Since the crumbling of the Southwest Conference in 1994, TCU has bounced from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA to the Mountain West. Now, the school based in a city that boasts itself as "Where the West Begins" will play in a conference called the Big East.
As the conference's 17th member, TCU is sidestepping reasonable logistical and geographical rationale to play in a group that has a favorable standing with the BCS. While TCU needed a Boise State meltdown on Thanksgiving weekend just to get its Rose Bowl invite, Big East champion Connecticut—despite a computer ranking in the 60s and a I-A history that goes back to only 2000—was assured a spot in a BCS bowl, in the Fiesta Bowl against Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, it makes sense for the Frogs to play in a conference that spans 13 states and is historically horrible in football. By playing teams such as Rutgers and Pittsburgh and South Florida, TCU can not only double its annual athletic department revenue, it can also guarantee an invitation to future BCS parties, if not a reservation in the spotlight dance.
"Having BCS automatic-qualifying status was a priority for our football program," said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte in a recent conference call. "It's a great reward for the success we've had the last decade."
Playing in the Big East doesn't promise success. It only mandates not being overlooked.
If Boise State senior kicker Kyle Brotzman didn't miss two chip-shot field goals in the Broncos' November 27 loss to Nevada, TCU and its 12-0 record would likely be ranked No. 4 by the BCS and headed to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. While the difference in prestige is incalculable, the financial discrepancy is inconceivable. Boise will earn $1 million; TCU $17 million.
It's a giant payday on a big stage for a Fort Worth program that has won 25 consecutive regular-season games and 38 of 41 overall, losing only to Oklahoma, Utah and Boise (in last year's Fiesta Bowl) since 2008. In Pasadena the Frogs can not only stake their claim as being the best team in 2010, they can shut up the Big Ten blowhards for years to come.
"I know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor," Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee said in November in response to the clamoring for respect by Boise and TCU. "We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gauntlet, that there's some reason to believe that they may not be the best teams to be in the big ballgame."
Perfect. Bulletin-board motivational material from a bozo in a bow tie.
TCU won't—can't—win a national championship, but will win the Rose Bowl. Teams like Ohio State and Wisconsin can have their elitist attitudes, but the Horned Frogs have college football's speediest, stingiest defense. Oregon has the nation's best offense and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the sport's best player, but TCU is the best team.
In the Horned Frogs' future is a new, bigger conference and a new, bigger facility as 80-year-old Amon G. Carter Stadium undergoes a $105 million facelift. In TCU's present: a football team that is all grown up but still, inexplicably, being told it isn't tall enough to ride this ride.