The Longhorn Network has radically altered the college football landscape, and it hasn’t even launched yet. The Big 12 and, by extension, the rest of college football has become destabilized. ESPN, somehow, maintains the pretense it is an objective bystander. Here are a few thoughts.
The SEC Will Expand. The conference misstepped with the TV money. They were first to the table, not last. They received a $3 billion TV deal over 15 years. Two years later, the less attractive Pac-12 received $3 billion over 12 years. The Big East thinks a massive deal is in play. Adding a team or two, any team or two, lets the SEC tear up that agreement and renegotiate.
Texas A&M is especially attractive. Besides being a stable football school, it adds Texas’ 25.1 million population (growing at about 20 percent per decade) to the SEC’s footprint. Unlike FSU, Georgia Tech or Clemson, the Aggies don’t intrude on the natural footprint of any current school. Virginia Tech seems like a plausible candidate to come with them.
Texas A&M Will Join the SEC. After they do their legal due diligence. College football is unstable. Survival is the paramount concern. It’s unclear what the sport will look like in 20 years. What is clear, the SEC and Big Ten will exist and reel in large amounts of money. No one is leaving the seats at that buffet. It’s preferable to an unstable hodgepodge subject to Texas’ whims. It’s more lucrative, even if they pay a massive indemnity to leave.
Ultimately, it’s BSDs making the decision and Texas A&M’s don’t want to be swinging diminished Ds. Texas, you boys are playing Kansas State on the Longhorn Network? We’re trying to decide between LSU, Alabama and Arkansas for our huge national TV blowout at the Jerry Dome.
Will this blow up the Big 12? Not yet. As long as Texas and Oklahoma are invested, that conference will exist. As long as Dodds is AD at Texas and Stoops is coach at Oklahoma, expect that to stay the case. BYU or another replacement can be found for the Aggies. To keep its ESPN contract, any replacement would do. Even if schools such as Missouri would be open, they shouldn’t receive compelling offers to leave. The Big East, however, should be really concerned. It is last on the totem poll in terms of loyalty and desirability. If Virginia Tech is the other SEC addition, that leaves the ACC with 11. They need another team, at least, to keep their title game. Do they take West Virginia? Syracuse? Pitt? All three? How does that affect their expansion plans, their planned TV deal, their existence and their automatic BCS bid?
With Hindsight, Would ESPN Have Created the Longhorn Network? It hasn’t launched yet, but it has already had multiple unanticipated problems. What is this network going to show? Not disparaging the Mack Brown variety hour, but sports networks are driven by live sports. The Longhorn Network was banking on the high school games. Without those, the network’s sum live programming will be two awful Texas football games, maybe a couple basketball games and ancillary sports. Is that enough to entice people to watch or to force cable providers to sign favorable deals to carry it (Not one has agreed to do so)? Time Warner stood up to the NFL on the NFL Network and it hasn’t suffered mass subscriber cancellations or people storming their offices with pitchforks.
By existing, the Longhorn Network takes a huge dump on the ESPN’s journalistic credibility. In all avenues, ESPN is now the YES Network for anything even tangibly related to Texas. It’s a body blow for a brand already soiled by the Mike Leach fiasco. The conference realignment story is just the beginning of decades of a double-standard and awkward dodges that will soil perception, even among casual viewers, of the network as an honest source for information. The fallout exposes ESPN for the wanton power broker it is in college football. Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 and its ESPN deal, because Texas became a business partner with ESPN, to join the SEC so that conference can renegotiate its ESPN deal for more lucrative terms. Billions of ESPN dollars are affected, yet ESPN is supposed to cover that dispassionately? Right.
The Longhorn Network will make money for ESPN and Texas, but that profit will come with a cost.
[Photo via Getty]