Whether in World War 2 or the Cold War, there is a strong historical precedent for the field of propaganda analysis. Rutgers fans should be well-aware of this fact. Greg Schiano is well-versed in the banal monotony of coachspeak, and the athletic department keeps a tight lid on all information released concerning the football program. Those factors have combined to spawn a growing cottage industry of Schianology; hundreds, if not thousands of Scarlet Knight supporters trying to infer insights and generalizations from the tiniest hint or inflection.
More often then not, all of the speculation is probably a load of rubbish, but there is not really any other available outlet to sate one's curiosity for information. As such, I am emboldened enough to want to take a crack at pouring over a recent series of news stories concerning the potential admission of TCU to the Big East conference.
Here's the known timeline: there have been a series of media leaks concerning Big East expansion over the past year. First came UCF during last summer's Big Ten-induced hysteria, and last month Villanova's athletic department publicly acknowledged discussions about upgrading its football program to the FBS level and joining the Big East. On Tuesday Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News tweeted that TCU was exploring trying to join the Big East, and have spoken to the league office in Providence. That same day Len Robbins fleshed out the story in more detail for the Post, and Adam Zagoria has additional confirmation.
Now the Dallas media is starting to run with the story, conveniently placing TCU's athletic director in New York and Philadelphia, ostensibly for Mountain West television negotiations.
TCU and Big East officials have discussed the Horned Frogs joining the conference, according to several sources close to the situation.
TCU has met with Big East officials within the past 30 days to discus the logistics of a move by TCU in either the 2011 or 2012 seasons, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The article clearly characterizes the negotiations as contingent on what ends up happening with Villanova. Considering that several of the articles out of Philadelphia last month mentioned that Temple was seen as a fallback candidate if the Wildcats chose to eschew the Big East's offer, it's fair to consider whether or not this TCU story is a part of a campaign to pressure the Wildcats into making the jump to FBS through a deliberate series of media leaks. That's the possibility Sean Keeley has been pushing over the past few days, and I am strongly inclined to agree with him on this point.
The reason that the TCU rumors don't hold water for me is that they seem strongly out of character for the way the Big East operates. The Horned Frogs would clearly be an addition for the purposes of shoring up Big East conference football. That would be a very good thing, considering that football dwarfs basketball in terms of television revenue (yes, even here in the Big East), but nothing the Providence big-wigs have ever done points toward thinking in that direction.
They are solely concerned with propping up and preserving the welfare of the conference's smaller, non-football, Catholic schools. Any semblance of long-term strategy, or yielding to proportionality and putting more of an emphasis on football is completely out of the question. Is there any universe where it's plausible that the non-football schools would put themselves at a 9-8 voting disadvantage by bringing in another all-sports member? That's what would have to happen. Conceivably TCU could join another conference for most sports, and join only for football, but they're unlikely to have much interest in that scenario considering how Temple was unceremoniously booted under similar circumstances a few years back. Not having full voting rights leaves an athletic department exposed and without any leverage.
In spite of the difficulties presented by their geographic footprint, TCU football brings enough to the table where I would be thrilled to add the Horned Frogs in any hypothetical Big East conference split. Their lack of basketball success isn't a hindrance at all; it would almost be an asset.. Any iteration of the Big East is full of programs devoted to winning in basketball. Everybody can't always win. It would almost be a relief to add a guaranteed win or two to each team's conference schedule every year. That wouldn't work in a 17-team conference, but a smaller Big East would allow the remaining all-sports teams to recalibrate their OOC schedules in response to any split.
Unfortunately, that does not appear to be a realistic option. The Big East is determined to preserve the unwieldy and workable status quo, determined to take the path of least resistance by pushing Villanova to upgrade. Not only do logistical concerns make the Wildcats a far less attractive all-sports member than Temple (if the goal is a foothold in Philadelphia), but the financial burdens of making the jump to FBS would likely place a significant financial burden on a Big East conference that already generates less television revenue than any other "Big Six" conference with a BCS auto-bid.
The whole sordid plan brings to mind a second-hand quote from last Sunday's episode of Boardwalk Empire.
Charity degrades those who receive it. And hardens those who dispense it.
With any luck, the Villanova athletic department will express half as much dignity as Margaret Schroeder, telling off the unabashed gangsters that treat the Big East conference like their personal fiefdom and patronage mill. Even Nucky Thompson would be hard-pressed to match this inexorable racket.