TCU-Baylor “rivalry” extends off the football field


TCU is set to play Baylor on Saturday, but regardless of the result, it likely won’t settle a rivalry that has gradually grown deeper than just between the sidelines.

It is a competition between two universities, both of which are Christian, with similar sizes located in a similar region. They’re also the only two private schools in the Big 12. At one point, TCU was even located in Waco.

“Honestly, there is a rivalry,” said Ray Brown, TCU’s dean of admissions. “Baylor, like SMU, is one of our two biggest private school competitors in the country.”

But if competitions between colleges were decided like competitions between college football teams, Baylor would be edging TCU. Baylor checked in at No. 75 in this year’s edition of the U.S. News and World Report rankings of national universities. TCU was tied for 82nd.

Brown said he’s aware of those numbers. But he also says they have to be taken with a grain of salt.

“What I get into the habit of saying is that there isn’t a week goes by – not a single week – in the spring, that I don’t get a phone call from a parent who says, ‘what do you mean my kid didn’t get into TCU? He got a scholarship at Baylor.’ Not a week that goes by,” Brown said. “My job on phone calls like that is to listen. But what I want to say is that – because they always follow it up with and they’re ranked higher than you – and so what I want to say is that should probably give you an indication of the real merit of rankings.”

A “rivalry” grown:

Don Mills, now a professor in the education department, worked in an administrative capacity at TCU for more than 40 years, most recently as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. He said it used to be that the main rivalry was between TCU and SMU, mostly due to the fact the two schools were in close proximity to each other and competed in sports every year. Mills points to the post-Southwest Conference era in the late-1990’s and early-2000’s as when the “rivalry” between TCU and Baylor truly began to grow. As TCU grew more competitive in football, Baylor’s progress had stalled in the Big 12.

“I think the rivalry between schools are rarely between history departments,” Mills said. “As TCU began to become more aggressive in its pursuit of athletic excellence and Baylor was not doing particularly well, there sort of became a talk about TCU [as] the school on the move and I think there was some sense that Baylor was stagnating a little bit.”

Similarities and differences:

Both Brown and Mills admitted the rivalry between Baylor and TCU stems in part from the on-the-surface similarities between the two schools. But from an academic standpoint, in particular the students TCU targets, those similarities don’t always fall in line.

Brown said Baylor relies more on standardized numbers, such as ACT and SAT scores and class rank, based on grade point average.

“Baylor approaches the admission process very much like a public school does,” Brown said.

For example, on Baylor’s admissions website a prospective student can calculate the amount of scholarship money they would earn based on three categories: ACT and SAT component scores, class rank and whether or not they are they are a National Merit Scholar.

“We know what standardized exams are worth, and the answer is not a heck of a whole lot,” Brown said. “They were not designed to give scholarships out. That’s an abuse of standardized exams.”

But what about the whole religious thing?

Both schools have Christian roots, Baylor with Baptist General Convention of Texas and TCU with the Disciples of Christ. The difference, though, is in each school’s relationship with their respective denominations, Mills said.

“For a long time, Baylor was actively controlled by the Southern Baptist Association of Texas,” Mills said. “And while I think they are more independent now, there is still a very strong influence from the Baptist church on Baylor. The Disciples of Christ is a very different type of church structure – and they have never had any influence over TCU in a governance way.”

On top of that, the Disciples of Christ and the Baptists are two very different types of Protestant Christianity, Mills said.

“Baylor is much more closely related to a conservative, Protestant denomination. And TCU is related to a more moderate, liberal Protestant Christian tradition,” Mills said. “I think it affects the environment on [Baylor’s] campus life much more than the [Disciples of Christ] affects the day-to-day experience at TCU’s.”

Then there’s the difference in Waco and Fort Worth.

Waco, with a population of around 127,000, sits about an hour and half south of Dallas-Fort Worth. It’s not a small town, but it doesn’t have the big-city feel of the Metroplex, which has a population in the millions.

Mills has a son who lives in Waco, so he travels there often. Like most people with strong TCU ties, he isn’t afraid to poke fun at Baylor’s hometown.

“I predict they’ll get that same kind of bump [from athletics success],” Mills said. “But then, people will have to visit Waco.”

But the issue, to Mills, goes deeper than which city is bigger or smaller, better or less attractive.

“I think one of the things TCU has done over the last 10 or 12 years is to make a very conscious decision that TCU is going to be vitally connected to Fort Worth,” he said. “And so you see TCU engaged in downtown projects, you see the Berry Street project, you see the city embracing the university. That doesn’t happen as much in Waco. At least it’s not apparent.”

Shedding perception:

From a perception standpoint, shedding the idea that TCU and Baylor – both Christian, private schools in Texas with similar student body sizes – are Xerox copies of each other is a challenge, Mills said. He sees TCU doing that, though, through three main avenues: Evolving its curriculum, bolstering and enhancing its study abroad program and continuing its embrace of Fort Worth as the west side of the Metroplex continues to grow.

“I think putting some real definition to the Academy of Tomorrow, which has the possibility of transforming the curriculum from a very traditional, 124 credit hours to one that says let’s look at some societal problems, and, across the curriculum, we’re going to come at those problems from different ways, and we’re going to become an incubator of ideas,” Mills said. “I think that is essential to really elevate TCU in some ways.”

Adding onto the current study abroad program is essential, too, Mills said. Mills pointed to the difference between studying Spanish in Barcelona – a very traditional study abroad experience – to helping build a sewage system in Nicaragua.

“That’s one of our major emphases, to get more and more people overseas,” Mills said. “And I think we’re trying to find ways for you to go as a student, and it’s not just the typical study abroad program – you really get immersed in some way where you have a sense of what cultural problems are.”

And Mills said he thinks TCU continuing to embrace its relationship with Fort Worth will be beneficial.

“Even though population growth is on the east side, so far, where the land is on this side of the metroplex, and I think TCU can take advantage of that growth,” Mills said.

Brown has a simpler solution: Get people on campus.

“This is what a lot of students tell me: that we look an awful lot alike on paper,” Brown said. “It’s once you get on campus that you really see the differences. And the differences become very, very real.”