The Battle for the Iron Skillet is set to go on a pause after 2025, following the 104th meeting between SMU and TCU. It’s another in a long list of traditional regional rivalries being kicked to the curb in this era of conference consolidation and television revenue greed. While many are calling it a sign of the End of Days for College Football, many TCU fans have met the news with a much more positive attitude, noting that winning the game is of no consequence to the Horned Frogs while losing it is a catastrophe at the national level.
As much as this rivalry game has come to mean very little in the grand plan for the Horned Frogs, it also means very little to the goals SMU needs to achieve to get to where it wants to go. SMU has just now decided it wants to put the Mariana Trench-deep pockets of its donor base towards the development of its athletic program as a bargaining chip to gain entry into a power conference. SMU has reportedly offered to forego 5-7 years of media rights revenue as a payment into the ACC, potentially falling hundreds of millions of dollars behind its would-be conference mates, while the stability of that conference is still in question as its major programs continue to search for an escape.
One might wonder, where have all these billionaire benefactors been hiding for the last few decades? Why doesn’t SMU play in a cathedral of a stadium in University Park, or at least one that can rival the region’s high school stadiums? Why have the Mustangs been unable to lure big time coaches or retain the only one that found success? If you have all the money in the world to be great, why aren’t you great?
This belief that if SMU were simply dropped into a major conference it would find instant success because it could money whip any hurdle it encounters seems misguided. Success on the national stage for teams like TCU & Utah did not materialize out of thin air the moment those programs got pulled into power conferences, it took decades of financial and administrative commitment to the athletic departments: major facilities improvements, keeping pace with coach compensation, and ultimately a consistent tradition of winning football games.
In the last quarter century, the Mustangs have achieved just six winning seasons, three of which were during the tenure of Sonny Dykes, whom SMU couldn’t find sufficient funds to prevent from moving to Fort Worth. During a decade of play in the American Athletic Conference, SMU has never finished better than 4th in the league. 2019 was the Mustangs’ best season since 1984, resulting in a third place finish in the West division of the AAC and a loss to Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Bringing up that history is not to beat a dea... er, um, not to belabor the point, it’s to state that SMU should be having success. More success, big success. It is absolutely accurate that SMU has access to resources and proximity to talent that its peers do not have; it should compete at the top end of the AAC and the Ponies very well may go do it this season with many of the conference’s top programs now in the Big12. In the 12-team Playoff future, winning the American may mean competing for an automatic invitation to the party. Defeating TCU a few times a generation should not be SMU’s goal, it should be winning the American (or whatever new conference they may be in) while fielding teams consistently in or around the Top 25. Until then, Fort Worth or Nowhere.
By replacing a home game against the Horned Frogs - a matchup SMU hasn’t won in Dallas since 2005 - with another opponent, the Mustangs now have flexibility to be in a better position to meet that goal. While TCU will benefit from removing a road game that serves no purpose for its goals, SMU will benefit by freeing a home slot to schedule a game that will better serve its goals. While it’s not a full divorce, both sides of the Metroplex may find life to make a bit more sense while separated.