Big East gets bigger, adds TCU for 2012 season

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FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - TCU is getting out of future debates about whether the Horned Frogs deserve to be in a BCS game. They are joining a league with automatic access.

The Frogs won’t have to be a BCS buster when they move to the Big East Conference, starting with the 2012 season. Win their new league and they will be guaranteed a spot in one of the big-money games.

In the latest restructuring of the college football landscape, TCU’s board of trustees unanimously approved an invitation Monday to join the Big East in football and all other sports. The move from the Mountain West Conference becomes official July 1, 2012.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said gaining automatic-qualifying status “was a big factor” in the move and gives the Horned Frogs “the greatest opportunity to compete for the national championship.”

The Big East, currently with eight football teams, has one of six automatic BCS slots.

“Access got easier, not the road,” said Frogs coach Gary Patterson, whose third-ranked Frogs (12-0) wrapped up their second consecutive undefeated regular season and Mountain West title with a 66-17 win at New Mexico on Saturday.

TCU is third in the BCS standings _ the highest-ranked non-automatic qualifying team _ and is in line for a chance to play for the national championship if Auburn or Oregon lose next weekend. The Frogs likely will play in the Rose Bowl if Auburn and Oregon both win.

“Who would have thought five years ago that the guaranteed fallback position is, you’re going to the Rose Bowl, and one loss you’re in the national championship?” Del Conte told a room filled with supporters and staff. “We’re going to Pasadena, let’s get fired up. We’re going to the Big East, let’s get fired up. … It’s a great time to be a Frog.”

The pending departure of TCU continues a big shuffle for the Mountain West, which last summer announced that Boise State was leaving the WAC to join its league in 2011. That was expected to bolster the strength of the MWC and put the league in better position for possibly gaining an automatic BCS berth in the future. But now so much has changed.

Utah is leaving the Mountain West for the expanded Pac-12 and BYU is going independent. Fresno State and Nevada, and maybe Hawaii, are going from the WAC to the MWC in 2012 after TCU leaves.

“Today’s intercollegiate athletics environment is very fluid,” Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “Our board of directors and directors of athletics, as they have throughout the history of the MWC and with even more focus recently, will continue to analyze the landscape and chart our course in the context of ongoing changes.”

Thompson said there were “conversations already under way with potential future members.”

Del Conte said losing BYU and Utah was a “significant blow” to the Mountain West.

“It was not the same league that we joined,” he said. “It’s not the same home that we bought, it’s not same home we were invited to, and things changed, the landscape changed.”

Boise State president Bob Kustra called TCU’s decision disappointing “but not entirely surprising given the stakes of automatic qualification in the BCS bowl system and relative lack of access for non-AQ conferences.” He said the Mountain West was still a good fit for his school.

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