‘Been Everywhere’: TCU conference-hopping run to title game

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU had quite the conference-hopping journey on its way to the national championship game.

The Horned Frogs won or shared titles in three different leagues over 16 seasons after the Southwest Conference disbanded. The small, private school was left out when four other Texas schools from the SWC joined the Big 12 in 1996.

“It’s like that old song by Hank Snow, `I’ve Been Everywhere’ – our fans, they’ve traveled all over the place,” said John Denton, the Horned Frogs’ kicker for their 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl team who has been part of their radio broadcasts since 1988.

All the way from the East Coast to Hawaii, with stops in the Western Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Mountain West before finally getting an invitation to the Big 12 in 2012. They are now the school located the closest to the league’s headquarters in North Texas, after being either the easternmost or westernmost team in other conferences.

The long journey by TCU (13-1) has taken it to a showdown with defending national champion Georgia (14-0) in the title game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. TCU has just over 10,000 students, about one-third the enrollment at Georgia’s main campus.

The Frogs won their semifinal over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, the game where they were a BCS buster along with Boise State in 2009, long before the current four-team playoff.

“We’re focused in on what we’re doing but we understand there’s been so many great teams that built this program to get to where we are,” Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback Max Duggan said. “I’ve had guys from past teams that have been hitting me up and congratulating me, and they’re rooting for us … whether it’s teams back in the Southwest Conference, teams with Andy (Dalton), the 2014 team.”

The Frogs have already matched the school record for wins set by the 2010 team that, with Dalton as the senior quarterback, went 13-0 with a Rose Bowl victory and was No. 2 in the final AP Top 25 poll. That was the middle of three consecutive seasons (2009-11) when TCU didn’t lose a Mountain West league game before going to the Big 12.

“What we were able to accomplish toward the end of my (college) career kind of set us up to get to this point where we’re able to not only play in the College Football Playoff but compete for a national championship,” Dalton, now with the New Orleans Saints, said. “And to see where the program’s gone from where it started even years before I got there to where it is now, it’s definitely headed in the right direction.”

Within a month after that Rose Bowl victory, the school had raised the final $30 million needed for a $165 million rebuild of Amon G. Carter Stadium, its campus home. Both fundraising and enrollment increased, helping set up TCU’s major conference move.

That was also during a span when the Horned Frogs had accepted an invitation to join the Big East, but never played in the predominant basketball league that no longer sponsors football.

After the SWC dissolved, TCU initially was part of the WAC, then a 16-team conference that is now less than half that size and playing at the Championship Subdivision level after an eight-season hiatus that ended in 2021. Then came four seasons in C-USA before four outright MWC titles in seven seasons.

TCU bottomed out at 1-10 in 1997, the second season after the SWC, before Dennis Franchione was hired and the Frogs finished his debut season with a victory over Southern California in the Sun Bowl when Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson was a sophomore. LT the next season set an NCAA record with a 406-yard rushing game, and led the nation with 2,158 yards as a senior in 2000.

When Franchione left for Alabama at the end of the 2000 season, defensive coordinator Gary Patterson succeeded him and won a school-record 181 games before his departure with four games left in the 2021 season. The Frogs had 11 seasons with at least 10 wins overall under Patterson and top-10 finishes in the AP Top 25 six times over a 10-season period through 2017, when the Frogs played in their first Big 12 championship game.

There was no Big 12 title game when the one-loss Frogs shared the regular-season crown with Baylor in 2014, the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff. TCU dropped from third to sixth in the final CFP rankings, missing the inaugural playoff even after beating Iowa State 55-3 in its regular-season finale.

The Frogs now have a chance to win their first national championship since quarterback Davey O’Brien and the 1938 team went 11-0 to finish No. 1 for the only the third title in the AP poll era.

“It’s a big deal. You could make arguments that this team should have played for a national championship one more time, potentially two more times before this,” first-year coach Sonny Dykes said. “The landscape of college football has changed, and I think the perception of the Big 12 has changed. Still probably not what it needs to be, but it’s better. And I think all of that allowed us to get in the playoff, and then it was up to us to do something with that opportunity.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.