MORGANTOWN - There are plenty of good reasons for adding TCU to the membership of the Big East Conference, not the least of which is to begin the process of propping up a football collective that has seemed to go out of its way to shoot itself in the foot all season long.
Is it a bit of a gamble? Well, sure. We're not talking about adding an entrenched football commodity here.
Yes, since 2000 the Horned Frogs have won 10 or more games eight times. There is still a chance that by the end of the week they could find themselves in the BCS title game. No current Big East team comes close to matching that 11-year resume. West Virginia and Cincinnati come closest, each with three seasons of 10-plus wins and one last-week shot at a national championship game - WVU in 2007 and UC last season.
Shoot, the eight current Big East football members combined have only 11 double-figure-win seasons since 2000 (WVU, Cincinnati and Louisville have three, Pitt and Syracuse one each).
But this is not exactly like adding Nebraska to the Big Ten, is it? Between 1960 and 1999, TCU shared one conference title and spent a total of five weeks over two seasons in the Associated Press Top 25.
(By the way, one of those two ranked teams, in 1984, you may remember. Jim Wacker's bunch started 8-1 to get to as high as No. 12 in the country before losing its last three - to Texas, Texas A&M and, in the Bluebonnet Bowl, West Virginia. It's the only time the teams have played.)
True, TCU has prospered in the last decade. Again, though, look at the trend. Between 1960 and the breakup of the SWC in 1995, TCU shared one league title. Then it was on to the WAC and two crowns in five years. Four years in Conference USA produced one shared league championship. And now six years in the Mountain West have resulted in three titles, including the last two.
Part of the uptick in performance is no doubt due to the program's improvement, for three years under Dennis Franchione and since 2001 under Gary Patterson. But to ignore that TCU did not become a football brand until it left the big-boy table with the breakup of the SWC is a bit naïve.
Now, all of that background is not an attempt to denigrate TCU football or its addition to the Big East. It is merely a matter of context. Let's not get carried away here and pretend that this is anything more than a first step. It will be a quality first step if TCU manages to continue its decade of success. It would help if Patterson stuck around for a while, or if the school is able to carry on after his eventual departure. Stronger programs than TCU's have failed in that.
With all of that in mind, however, here's the best reason for adding TCU to the Big East football mix (and no, it's not that the school brings its recent record to the BCS's current four-year evaluation of conference performances, including the Big East, although that's a pretty nice perk):
Let's face it, the Big East has a bad rep right now, and deservedly so. On Sunday night, at least two top-10 teams are going to be left out of BCS bowl games while the very real possibility exists that an unranked Connecticut team that lost to 7-5 Michigan, 8-4 Temple, 4-7 Rutgers and 6-6 Louisville will get an automatic bid. (True, the league could save some face by sending a 9-3 Top 25 West Virginia team, but not much).