The 2010 U.S. Census reports that there are some 6,371,773 residents of what is known as the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
It’s the fourth-largest population center in the United States and the largest in the South.
And at this time next year, it will be yet another spoke in the BIG EAST’s hub as Texas Christian University becomes the conference’s 17th member and its ninth football-playing school.
In a day where the Big Ten has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10, there’s no topic that ignites Internet message boards like conference expansion in college athletics. All it takes is one comment from the right person at the right time – whether that person has a stake in the matter or not – to stir the pot and send diehard fans drawing divisional alignments and evaluating which outsiders ought to be drafted into their favorite conference.
While it’s a hot topic today, conference membership has always been a part of the BIG EAST landscape. The league began in 1979 as a basketball-playing entity featuring Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse. Villanova joined in 1980 and Pittsburgh followed in 1982, beginning a nine-year period of stability in the league.
The BIG EAST got into the football business in 1991, with Miami, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia joining Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College to form a league that stood intact for 13 years. Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia and Virginia Tech would all eventually join the basketball side as well, and Notre Dame came in on that front in 1995 to comprise the BIG EAST of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The most dramatic change to the BIG EAST membership took place between 2004 and 2005 as Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Temple’s football program transitioned to the Mid-American Conference, and the BIG EAST invited Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and USF to its ranks.
On the football side, it’s been a terrific fit. Cincinnati and Louisville both made legitimate runs at the BCS National Championship Game as BIG EAST members and USF climbed to No. 2 in the BCS rankings in 2007. And the BIG EAST’s current 16-team configuration will have been in place for seven years after the 2011-12 academic year, which is actually the second-longest period of stability in the league’s history.
The addition of TCU is expected to strengthen the BIG EAST on a number of fronts, the most obvious being the Horned Frogs’ ledger on the football field. TCU capped the 2010 season by defeating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finishing No. 2 in the final Associated Press and USA Today polls. The Horned Frogs are a combined 25-1 in the past two seasons.
Beyond the record, TCU gives the BIG EAST a presence in another major U.S. population center, adding a 10th top-35 market to the conference’s footprint. The school is parlaying its growth as a national football player into a newly renovated stadium that will be complete in the summer of 2012.
With TCU in the fold for 2012 and beyond, the natural question becomes what’s next for the BIG EAST with regard to its membership. The conference has been steadfast in its commitment to adding members for strategic reasons at the right time – not simply expanding to reach a certain membership count. Commissioner John Marinatto has said repeatedly that any new member would have to add value to the conference, particularly in light of the league’s negotiation of its television contract in the coming years.
Until that time, fans can enjoy the final year of one of the most stable periods in BIG EAST history in 2011. And they can look forward to 2012, when the league promises to be even stronger.