Leaders of the Big 12 Conference cleared the way Thursday to add TCU, a move that would bring in a rising program and potentially shore up a league that seemed ready to fall apart just a few weeks ago.
The Big 12's presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to authorize negotiations with the Horned Frogs, who play in Fort Worth, Texas, and boast the defending Rose Bowl champion.
TCU was planning to leave the Mountain West for the Big East next year, though the Big East is reeling from the loss of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC.
TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. suggested a move to the Big 12 might be a better decision for his school, a former member of the old Southwest Conference that once included current Big 12 members Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. It also included Texas A&M, which is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next year.
"These discussions with the Big 12 have huge implications for TCU," Boschini said. "It will allow us to return to old rivalries, something our fans and others have been advocating for years. As always, we must consider what's best for TCU and our student-athletes in this ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. We look forward to continuing these discussions with the Big 12."
Big East officials declined immediate comment.
The decision to go after TCU was the first aggressive move by the Big 12 since it lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) over the summer and learned the Aggies were leaving. The Big 12 is still waiting to see if Missouri will leave after its curators on Tuesday gave its chancellor the authority to explore options.
If Missouri leaves for the SEC, CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy reports the Big 12 likely would add three more schools to get to 12. The leading candidates would be Louisville, BYU, West Virginia and Cincinnati.
The Big 12 said interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas would begin talks with TCU immediately.
Bringing in TCU would boost the Big 12 back to 10 members, depending on whether Missouri stays or leaves.
"We're proud that TCU has been invited to join the Big 12," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. "Their commitment to academics and success on the field make them an excellent fit. With a solid budget and strong financial support, they have been proactive at improving facilities. Their close proximity to all conference institutions makes for a comfortable travel situation."
The move would also be a financial windfall for TCU.
Big 12 chancellors and presidents have agreed to equally share revenue from the conference's most lucrative television deals if member schools agree to give those top-tier rights to the league for at least six years. The agreement is subject to approval by university governing boards.
The revenue-sharing plan would give each school about $20 million in June and that figure is expected to grow by 2013 when the league's new 13-year contract with Fox Sports kicks in.
The Big 12's television contract with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016 and likely will bring in additional money when renegotiated.