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The conference change allows TCU to play in an automatic BCS-qualifying league beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

“Access got easier, not the road,” said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson, whose third-ranked Frogs (12-0) wrapped up their second consecutive undefeated regular season and Mountain West title with a 66-17 win at New Mexico on Saturday.

The Mountain West does not have an automatic bid to the BCS and is going through some changes of its own. BYU and Utah are leaving the conference just as Boise State enters.

Del Conte said losing BYU and Utah was a “significant blow” to the Mountain West.

“It was not the same league that we joined,” he said. “It’s not the same home that we bought, it’s not same home we were invited to, and things changed, the landscape changed.”

Boise State president Bob Kustra called TCU’s decision disappointing “but not entirely surprising given the stakes of automatic qualification in the BCS bowl system and relative lack of access for non-AQ conferences.” He said the Mountain West was still a good fit for his school.

BCS officials have said a non-automatic qualifying conference could earn an automatic bid for the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

And if the Big East’s BCS bid comes under scrutiny when the next TV contract ends after the 2013 season, TCU’s 2010 season will also count toward the Big East’s resume.

“It’s too soon to speculate about what the BCS thresholds will be for the 2015 and beyond, but it seems likely that TCU’s move will enhance the Big East’s position,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said in an e-mail.

TCU, which has an enrollment of 9,142, will become the Big East’s ninth football team. The conference has extended an invitation to Villanova to become its 10th football member.

“We are excited about the addition of TCU, as they bring a great deal of value to the Big East,” Villanova AD Vince Nicastro said Monday. “However, our timeframe has not changed. We are continuing to move forward with our comprehensive evaluation of FBS level football, and are still targeting a decision by the spring of 2011.”

The Big East has schools in nine of the nation’s 35 largest media markets and will be adding Dallas/Fort Worth, the fifth largest.

“Located in one of the top five media markets in the country, TCU also enables the Big East to extend its media footprint, which already encompasses more than a quarter of the country,” league commissioner John Marinatto said.

TCU is 12-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS. The Frogs are at the very least headed to the Rose Bowl. But if Auburn or Oregon slips up this weekend, TCU is poised to play for a national title.

The only current Big East team ranked in the AP poll is No. 23 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 Big East), which is 24th in the BCS standings. Connecticut (7-4, 4-2) could get the league’s automatic BCS spot.

The Frogs might not have been headed to a BCS game without Boise State’s loss Friday night in overtime at Nevada. Had the Broncos remained undefeated, there was a distinct possibility that the Broncos could have passed TCU in the BCS standings and been the only non-automatic qualifier school to get into one of the top-level bowls.