TCU loss is a heartbreaker, but Horned Frogs give Fort Worth many reasons to celebrate

Amanda McCoy/amccoy@star-telegram.com

TCU fans are disappointed after the Horned Frogs came so close to a Big 12 Championship on Saturday. And they’re nervous, fearing the Horned Frogs lost an opportunity to make the College Football Playoff.

But the thrilling capper to an incredible season is also a good time to remember — and hail — how good it is for Fort Worth when TCU competes at the highest level of college sports.

First, there’s the attention — when people are exposed to our city, they can’t help but notice its best qualities. Big games bring visitors, and not only do they spend money while they’re here, they see reasons to come back.

The benefits trickle down. Obviously hotels and other hospitality businesses do well. Tax dollars are a boon for the city and state. Small businesses, especially restaurants, do well on robust game days, too.

It has helped that this year, the Horned Frogs are an exciting team to watch. They’ve played nail-biters, with big, attention-getting comebacks, and offer a big-play brand of football that even casual fans are drawn to. The Big 12 announced that the crowd for Saturday’s game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington was the largest for the conference championship since 2018.

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Those who were there got their money’s worth. TCU executed one of its patented comebacks to force overtime but fell short. Kansas State won the Big 12, and the Horned Frogs wait to see if they can nonetheless make the playoff.

Even with their status in one of college football’s major conferences, the Horned Frogs are an upstart, often an underdog, that people like to root for. Who hasn’t enjoyed the “Hypnotoad” and the wacky videos put out by the TCU athletics team?

Fort Worth has embraced this team, and vice versa. It’s been heartening to see inclusivity efforts such as inviting civil-rights legend Opal Lee for the coin-toss in the season finale against Iowa State.

It’s important to note, too, that TCU’s two decades of building hasn’t involved extravagant demands of the city and its taxpayers. Fort Worth has always been willing to invest in sports. Dickies Arena is a great success, but it came at significant cost to the city. TCU and its big donors largely pay their own way.

Going forward, the community must stay united to fuel TCU as the college sports landscape constantly shifts. It will remain a challenge for a smaller, private school to stay at the sport’s highest levels. With the Big 12 losing Texas and Oklahoma, it’s been an open question whether TCU and its conference would slip a notch in the game’s hierarchy.

Top programs have always needed support from local business, but it’s especially true now as the best athletes are choosing schools in part based on how much they can get from “NIL,” the shorthand term for personal endorsement deals.

As this year’s delightful ride has shown: For Fort Worth, it’s all worth the effort.