COLUMN: Longhorn Network a deciding factor in Big 12 breakup
Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 Conference — that much we know.
After conference officials barely saved the Big 12 from crumbling last year, the remaining schools all seemed fairly secure in the conference’s future. Losing Colorado certainly was not a death sentence to any conference, and while losing Nebraska hurt, the Big 12 had a shiny new TV deal with Fox to save the day. Things seemed to be going all right. Then Texas and ESPN announced the launch of the Longhorn Network.
Bevo’s new $300 million television deal caused quite the stir among the other nine schools in the conference. Then, to make matters worse, ESPN announced the LHN also would be airing Texas high school football games. This only outraged coaches more because they claimed it gave Texas a clear advantage in recruiting. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops echoed those thoughts when asked about the subject at Big 12 media days in July.
“The lifeblood of every program is recruiting,” Stoops said. “So, we either all recruit by the same rules or we don’t. I have total trust in the administrations that we will all play under the same rules. If not, let’s change the rules so we can all play the same way.”
Stoops felt showing high school athletes (read: potential recruits) playing football on a Texas-run network gave the Longhorns a very unfair advantage in recruiting since the other nine schools don’t have networks to showcase potential recruits. UT and ESPN later announced the network would not show any high school football games — just highlights. However, that was not enough to satisfy the Horns’ rival schools.
Rumors about Texas A&M leaving for another conference have been stirring around for months. However, the Aggies made it official Wednesday, announcing its intentions to leave the conference and pursue other suitors. The Aggies proved they were not just all talk.
The Longhorns finally bullied around bitter rival A&M enough to make the Aggies head for greener pastures in the much stronger SEC. And why? The Longhorn Network. The Aggies are fed up with Texas getting everything it wants, more often than not at the expense of the other Big 12 teams — most notably the ones that share the state of Texas with the Horns.
The problem is A&M’s move leaves the rest of the conference in an even worse position than it was in last year.
The Big 12 still has a few options, the most obvious being to get more teams to round things out. However, there simply does not seem to be any teams in the area that would be willing to join the now-feeble conference, at least not any as glamorous as A&M or Nebraska.
That means the best move for OU seems to be moving to another conference. A lot of that speculation has been centered on the Sooners heading for the Pac-12.
The move, should the Big 12 continue its collapse like many are now predicting, could very well make the most sense for the Sooners. The fact remains though, that OU — and every other Big 12 school — could soon be facing a lot of uncertainty. That is, every school except Texas could be facing a lot of uncertainty.
Schools desire to be part of a big name conference for one reason: money. Being in a BCS conference means guaranteed big money for schools every single year.
By joining forces with ESPN, Texas has guaranteed its program will be bringing in big bucks with or without the Big 12. The best bet for Oklahoma, regardless of whether the Big 12 disbands, may be to follow Texas’ lead.
OU’s SoonerVision HD has received $5 million worth of improvements in recent years, and the university already broadcasts dozens of sporting events in high definition online. In fact, the school already has a subscription All-Access package that allows subscribers access to live events for $100 a year. It seems all OU is missing is a network to help get the ball rolling.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione has not yet mentioned any such plans. However, now may be the time to make something happen. A TV network would mean the Sooners would not have to scramble to find a conference if the Big 12 disbanded. They would have the financial backing — as Texas does with the LHN and Notre Dame does with NBC — to be an independent until they got a desirable enough offer.
The financial security is just one good reason for a Sooner Network. The network could provide fans more content like ESPN’s recent “Training Days” feature, the smaller sports at OU could have a platform for more coverage and OU administrators could sleep soundly at night without any fears of conference realignment.
And, of course, maybe the only argument Sooner fans really need is quite simply this: Texas has its own network.
Greg Fewell is a journalism junior.