What a week for Big 12 football. West Virginia gets official clearance to come into the league, the schedule is released — then the bottom falls out of maybe the only feel-good story about conference realignment. Scandal struck the solid program at TCU.
The arrest of four football players in a huge drug sting on campus, coupled with allegations about rampant drug use on the football team, has tarnished the Horned Frogs. TCU football was a great story. A program left out of big-time college athletics 17 years ago pulled itself, made itself into something anyway and began competing at a high level. The Horned Frogs hired quality coaches, upgraded facilities, recruited better and suddenly started taking down the big boys.
TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose 13 months ago, and last October the bonanza was realized. TCU was invited back to the table, Big 12, that rejected it lo so many years ago.
And TCU entered the Big 12 with the notion that it could compete right away. A bunch of veterans, plus a quality quarterback in Casey Paschall, returns. The league and the networks thought so much of TCU that it placed the Oklahoma-at-TCU game on Dec. 1, a quasi-championship game designation between the team picked to win the Big 12 in 2012 and the upstart that could make an immediate splash.
The placing of that game just continued the euphoria over TCU’s admission into the conference. Amid all the chaos over conference realignment, with schools scrambling to leave or threatening to or conspiring to, here came a school, holding THE ROSE BOWL TROPHY and clamoring to join the Big 12. Those in attendance that day in Fort Worth, when TCU’s invitation was extended, say the smiles were wide and the tears were joyful. Made you feel almost good that conference realignment had taken place.
But now TCU is in turmoil. This is no small scandal. This is no isolated incident. A campus-wide sting, with football players — three expected to be starters — telling undercover cops about the drug use on the team, and coach Gary Patterson hearing from a recruit that he passed on the Frogs because of drug use on the team, now casts a heavy shadow on a football program that appeared to be doing everything right.
TCU football will miss the players, who have been jettisoned from the squad. But the Frogs will miss that reputation even more so. That will be hard to build back.
The truth is, drug use is a problem at virtually every campus in America. Few, if any, football programs are immune. Both OU and OSU have had individual players fail drug tests in the last year.
But when it involves multiple players distributing, and a coach ordering drug tests for his team because he’s embarrassed to learn from a high school kid that there’s a drug culture within his team, that’s a little different. Then people look at your football program in a little different manner.
TCU was widely hailed for the overt manner in which it dealt with the disturbing news. Certainly Patterson and the school administration appear ready to seek a firm grasp.
I hope they do. I hope TCU isn’t damaged too severely, either with its 2012 team or its long-term future. The Big 12 needs TCU to thrive, and the Frogs looked the part just a few days ago. But now, who knows?