Frogs compete with the big boys

In the 2008-2009 school year, the University of Texas athletic department brought in more than $138 million in revenue, according to data supplied to the Education Department. While the Longhorns stole headlines, TCU athletics moved into an elite position in its own right.

The university raked in almost $46.5 million through athletics, and while it’s well short of the burnt-orange menace to the south, it was top among non-BCS schools. Not too shabby for a school with the 10th smallest enrollment of Football Bowl Subdivision teams (not counting the service academies).

For those keeping track, that $46.5 million figure was good for No. 58 in the NCAA. It was also ahead of 55 schools larger than TCU, including Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Iowa State and Vanderbilt. But more importantly, it makes TCU a viable option for an opening in, say, the Big 12. writer Andy Staples argued similarly in a column published Feb. 17, although he moved TCU into the Pac-16, a hypothetical conference he created in which the Frogs would share a division with Baylor, Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

Staples’ column laid out the premise of the top-64 revenue-generating athletic departments moving to superconferences and abandoning the NCAA. It’s well worth a read, but only as a lovely daydream. The NCAA has its share of problems and does get in the way of major athletic programs. One day a better balance will have to be struck between the haves and have-nots of collegiate athletics. But the decision would not be up to athletic departments – it would be made by university presidents.

If Staples really believes a group of 64 smart and well-respected presidents would be OK with making a pure money grab, I guess it’s within the realm of possibility. But when you think of the number of politicians and high-powered friends who would be angered by such a move (not to mention the NCAA’s 56 furious remaining programs), it’s hard to imagine more than a vocal minority willing to take the plunge and abandon the NCAA that got them where they are.

That’s why moving into the top-60 in athletics revenue is the most important aspect of that column from a Horned Frog fan’s perspective. Even if a group left to form a new superpower, the odds are TCU would not be included.

The ranking for next year will look very different, as the SEC’s multibillion dollar television deal takes effect. We’ll be jumped by Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and probably others. This year has been a wonderful sign of progress for the university’s athletics, but shouldn’t be counted on consistently. The number of televisions watching your team is hugely important in today’s college athletic market – it’s why the Big 10 wants to talk to Texas – and we don’t rank.

Even ignoring both of those issues, TCU has been left out in the cold before for inferior programs (like Baylor). But forcing our way into the top-60 with a comparative joke of a TV deal and no guaranteed BCS money is a sign for those looking to expand.

Expansion is realistic and coming soon for at least one conference. Should one of the Big 12 teams leave for greener pastures? We’ll be right here. In fact, Colorado ranked No. 51 on the list of revenue-producing athletic departments for 2008-2009 with nearly $50 million. If they bail to the Pac-10, give TCU their Big 12 slot and watch them crush that number.

If a place opens up at the big boys table, TCU no longer needs a booster seat.

Josh Davis is a news-editorial journalism major from Dallas.