TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte Answeres Our Questions About The University And The Future Of The Big 12
By KEVIN LONNQUIST
Construction crews are the current sights and sounds around Amon Carter Stadium this summer. But by September 8 when TCU opens the 2012 home schedule against Grambling, the machinery and hard hats will give way to roaring crowds that should fill every seat in the new 45,000-seat facility.
It’s the next step in TCU’s three-decade journey to accept nothing less than completely committing to athletics. The cost of this project is $143 million. Season tickets are at 30,000 sold and could top 32,000. This is not the time for TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte to take a vacation. There is too much to do before the season begins.
The previous step occurred on July 1 when the university officially became a member of the Big 12 conference. Recently, Rattle and Hum sat down with Del Conte to discuss matters connected to the athletic department, the Big 12 and beyond.
R&H: What did Saturday’s official start mean to the university?
CDC: Since the official announcement was last fall, it was, of course, a big deal then. But Saturday was like New Year’s Eve with a new era starting. The invitation was nice to be back with some of the teams that we played in the Southwest Conference. We didn’t use the breakup and look for excuses. We had to earn our way back. When anything happens, it’s natural to ask why me and point a finger. But the leadership we’ve shown from our chancellor [Victor Boschini] to our board of trustees has made a difference in every aspect. Instead of having 4,000 applications for about 1,600 spots, we have about 20,000 applications. We have a phenomenal program. Our football program has been second to none. And we’re going into a conference that’s arguably one of the best in the country. And you’re in Tarrant County and we’re the hometown team.
R&H: Your season tickets speak for themselves. How has this school been able to connect with Fort Worth like it has?
CDC: Well, our football program has had incredible success with our trips to the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl and top 10 finishes. Chancellor Boschini has a great relationship with the downtown leadership. But it didn’t happen overnight. It was 10-12 years in the making. Now, you see a lot of civic pride, and how the Trinity River turns purple on special occasions. Our mayor Betsy Price lives in the area and is of course very supportive. It all fits together.
R&H: Now that you’re in this position, what’s next for the athletic department including places like Daniel-Meyer Coliseum?
CDC: Daniel-Meyer is antiquated. We know that. Right now, we’re in the design stage and looking at plans. It’s going to be an overhaul. The seating capacity isn’t going to change (about 7,100). I hope to have something presented to the chancellor and the board of trustees by the end of the summer.
R&H: You hit new heights with the Frog Club revenue at a little over $5 million for 2010-11. Where are you expecting 2011-12 to finish?
CDC: The growth has been phenomenal. We believe we’re going to hit somewhere around $9.2 million.
R&H: On the Big 12 television deal that is currently being finalized, what signal does it send to you that the grant of rights will be for 13 years? (After then the schools turn over the TV rights to the Big 12.)
CDC: It signals two things. First, the league is committed to being together. Athletics should be played regionally. When you think about college athletics, you think about the fans and water cooler conversations on Monday. [Texas coach] Mack Brown said it best, “We’re committed to the Big 12. Oklahoma said it was committed to the Big 12 because it’s about regional competition and we have a great athletic conference.” [Big 12 commissioner] Bob Bowlsby is a tremendous commissioner. I’ve known him for years, and he’s one of the brightest individuals in our industry. I’m so excited to have him lead us to this next level. Second is our championship game with the SEC. That speaks volumes to have our Big 12 champion play the SEC champion. That just tells you the respect that the leagues have for each other.
R&H: Now that the presidents have approved the playoff, where do you think that takes college football?
CDC: It’s just tweaking a little bit. We have a four-team playoff to keep the bowls in play. So you’re going to protect the bowls. Really, it’s just taking that last step. All you’re doing is funneling into a different format. I think it’s a win-win.
R&H: What do you think that does for the Cotton Bowl being a part of the process?
CDC: I don’t know exactly what the six bowls are going to be. That’s yet to be determined. The good thing is that you have enough venues to move around. It’s exciting for our fans and for the bowls.
R&H: The NCAA has deregulated all forms of communication for basketball recruits. That started a couple of weeks ago. Football should follow in 2013. What do you think that will do for recruiting moving forward?
CDC: As technology changes, you have to adapt. [NCAA president] Mark Emmert has done a lot of great things for our industry and for the welfare of student athletes. If you ever look at the NCAA manual, it’s seven inches thick. It’s bigger than the New York Yellow Pages. You have to start to figure how you manage that and make it coherent instead of hiring seven attorneys to interpret it.
R&H: Where do you think expansion is headed for the conference?
CDC: Right now, we’re in a good position with 10 teams. We have a nine-game round robin format. That’s really something that the presidents and chancellors are going to have to decide what they want to do, but I’m not too sure we need to go beyond what we have.