Apr 172005
 
Authors: Stephanie Lindberg

Next season, CSU fans will see a new team on the schedule, as Texas Christian University joins the Mountain West Conference.

TCU will be joining the Mountain West after a wave of conference changes in the past few years.

"Unfortunately we've had to change a few times," said Eric Hyman, now in his eighth year as TCU's athletic director. "This is the fourth time since I've been here we've had to make a round of changes."

TCU, located in Fort Worth, Texas, was in the Western Athletic Conference in 1999 when several WAC teams left to form the Mountain West. TCU moved on to Conference USA in 2001, looking to face more competitive programs. For the first few years the university received just that, but after some of the bigger schools -Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville, DePaul and South Florida — left for the Big East Conference, Hyman said he was forced to look for yet another conference.

"We all liked Conference USA," Hyman said. "I think we were disappointed when it broke up."

While TCU was looking for a new home, the MWC was evaluating options to expand. TCU will be the first new school to join the 6-year-old conference.

"There's a lot of conference realignment going on," said Bret Gilliland, associate commissioner of the MWC. "We were really solid with the eight schools, but (we) said, 'Let's reevaluate and see if there's an opportunity to grow.'"

Gilliland said the conference looked at several factors, including how many schools there should be and who would be a good fit for the conference. After several months of consideration and evaluation of several institutions, the conference decided adding one new team would be beneficial.

"The No. 1 focus was fit," Gilliland said. "We also looked for someone philosophically of like mind – academic excellence coupled with athletic excellence."

The MWC has gained prominence in the last few years thanks to the dominance of Utah's football program and several NCAA Tournament bids for both basketball and volleyball programs.

In TCU the conference found features it liked, such as a similar budget, a top-10 media market, same-sponsored sports and good facilities. TCU's success in football was also a significant point as was the geographical proximity to the rest of the schools, Gilliland said.

Hyman said the conference is a perfect fit for TCU.

"We want to compete at the highest level and we think playing in the Mountain West will give us that opportunity," Hyman said. "The Utah (football) success puts a footprint on the nation. They've really given the Mountain West a respectable position. Hopefully our admission will solidify some sports and help us to grow."

As a result of conference changes, TCU has not had a chance to build up any rivalries, something that collegiate sports are well known for. C-USA also had a geographical barrier that TCU had to cross. With most of the conference teams located on the East Coast, travel was not only more expensive for fans but also forced long road trips for the athletes, Hyman said. And while Horned Frogs fans knew the C-USA foes, Hyman said fans are more familiar with teams in the West – teams they will now call conference rivals.

"They're excited about it," Hyman said. "They're ready to see new places and new schools."

On a football level, CSU Associate Athletic Director Gary Ozzello said the addition of TCU would help the conference.

"I think it is a great addition for our conference," Ozzello wrote in an e-mail interview. "Administratively, it will relieve quite a few headaches related to football scheduling and with TCU's overall program success, it will benefit the conference."

Shifting the schedule

While adding TCU might foster a stronger MWC football program, other sports will see a strong impact when their schedule is rearranged to include a ninth team. Changes will be made to both regular season schedules and championship tournament brackets.

Schedule changes are especially important for programs such as basketball and volleyball, which have traditionally played each MWC conference member twice during the year. Adding a ninth team will change the conference schedule from eight to nine weeks, said Marlon Edge, assistant director of communications for the MWC.

"The main difference with the conference schedule now that TCU has joined is that instead of the normal weekend conference schedule, Friday and Saturday with the occasional Sunday match, there will be mid-week conference matches, Tuesday and Thursday," Edge wrote in an e-mail interview. "The Friday and Saturday matches are still preferable to cut down on missed class time for the student-athletes."

Edge said there will also be a change in how many straight home or away games are played because coaches were concerned with having a balanced schedule.

"With that in mind no institution will have more than four matches in a row on the road or at home," Edge said. "Another parameter is that the conference will rotate teams that will have three conference games in one week from year to year."

The order in which teams play each other will be rotated each year, keeping in accordance with the order of the first- and second-half schedules, Edge said.

Another change to account for the ninth team will be to create an "odd team out," Edge said.

The odd team out will play two or three matches that week while one of those opposing teams will only have one conference game that week.

"We're going to be the odd team out," said Prentice Lewis, head volleyball coach at TCU. "They're only going to have to prepare for us that weekend."

After TCU is the odd team out this year, Wyoming, CSU and Air Force will alternate as the odd team through 2008, Edge said.

For TCU, the schedule will be quite different. Lewis said with C-USA being so large, the university only played each conference school once during the year. Now the Horned Frogs will face each conference opponent twice.

Starting the conference schedule a week early does have disadvantages. Many coaches schedule nonconference matches with the idea that playing better teams will make their team stronger.

"It gives you less weeks to play outside opponents but it gives you a better idea of where you stand in the conference," Lewis said. "We're very excited, but it's going to be very tough."

Tournaments will also be affected. In the traditional eight-team tournament, No. 1 and No. 8 would square off in the first round. With nine teams, a play-in game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds will be used to decide the final No. 8 spot, adding another day to the tournament schedule. This same format will also probably be used for the basketball schedules for both men and women.

Both Lewis and Hyman said TCU has had a smooth and welcoming transition to its new conference, though some things such as scheduling and travel will have to wait until the fall to be evaluated.

While the MWC has no plans to add another team, Gilliland said that it was a good move to add TCU.

"We've had a very steady growth curve," Gilliland said. "With TCU coming in, we think there's a bright future. They've been a great addition."

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