With Texas Christian University’s announcement today that it will leave the Mountain West to join the Big East—a league where its closest opponent in football, Louisville, would be a mere 868 miles away—the Horned Frogs become the latest athletic program to enter a game of musical chairs that has altered the Division I-A conference landscape over the past six months.
A quick recap: The reshuffling first kicked up dust among the Big Six conferences in the spring. But despite nervous chatter about the formation of mega-conferences, and 11th-hour negotiations to keep one conference intact, only three programs switched their conference affiliation (so far, anyway): Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten, and Colorado and Utah left the Big 12 and the Mountain West, respectively, for the Pac-10.
(See this interactive graphic, which illustrates the changing conference alignments over the past 20 years. The map has been updated since we first published it, in June.)
The larger shakeup, though, has been within the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West. Both leagues have lost and gained at least three programs in recent months, with more movement expected.
Boise State got things started in June, when the Broncos bolted the WAC for the Mountain West. Fresno State and Nevada followed shortly after, joining the Mountain West in August, and Hawaii is reportedly close to leaving the WAC for the rival conference as well, though no final announcement has been made.
After those losses, the WAC has sought to bolster its dwindling numbers by adding three programs (Texas State and Texas at San Antonio, both of which compete in Division I-AA, and Denver, a nonfootball program) to its five remaining members (Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State).
The Mountain West, meantime, lost Utah to the Pac-10 in June, and saw Brigham Young become an independent in football and join the West Coast Conference in all other sports. Now, the league will see one of its football superstars—TCU is currently ranked No. 3—join the Big East.
The back-and-forth between the two conferences has a certain familiarity. In 1999, seven of the Mountain West’s eight charter members hailed from the WAC. And TCU, which has been restless since the death of its longtime conference home, the Southwest Conference, in 1996, spent four seasons in Conference USA before joining the Mountain West in 2005. The Horned Frogs’ first stop after the demise of the Southwest? The WAC.