By Joe Glover
“Everything is bigger in Texas”.
That’s a motto that anyone who’s ever traveled throughout the South is familiar with. Texas goes far beyond the realm of normalcy, jumping feet first into a realm of tired cliches and misplaced individualism.
But really it’s nothing more than empty rhetoric. Scratch just below the surface of the “Don’t Mess With Texas” bumper sticker, and you uncover a world where loyalty and tradition mean little. The true Texas cliche should be, “In Texas, Money Talks, and Bullshit Walks”. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture of the gift shop inside the Alamo.
The Alamo! The place where Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and William Travis fought to their deaths has now been transformed into a tacky gift shop complete with paisley ties and bedazzled purses. Don’t mess with Texas indeed.
With that in mind, is it any wonder that the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network, sponsored and run by ESPN is the entire reason that the landscape of collegiate athletics is in complete and total disarray? Over the course of the next five blog posts, I will attempt to show how ESPN is responsible for the entire upheaval in collegiate sports realignment, and how they are controlling it.
Now that’s heavy stuff isn’t it? I mean, we’re talking about everything we’ve known about collegiate athletics, tossing it upside down, and putting all of the blame squarely on the shoulders of one school, and one small regional television channel. How’s that possible?
History of College Football In Texas
In order to wrap your mind around the idea, you really have to travel back to the mid-90’s, and take a close look at the old, now defunct Southwestern Conference (SWC). Officially the SWC existed from 1914-1996, and predominantly featured schools from the state of Texas (Arkansas being the one lone exception). The schools in the conference were the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Houston, and Baylor.
In 1994, the Big 8 Conference decided it wanted to expand. NCAA Bylaws dictated that any conference wanting to host a championship game (Which was critical because of all of the television and sponsorship dollars available for the taking), they were required to have a minimum of twelve members. In order to expand, they would have to find 4 more teams. Their eyes fell on the SWC, and they made an offer.
Originally, the Big 8 was not interested in adding all four teams from the SWC (There was talk about possibly poaching a school from the Big 10, and even a Notre Dame rumor or two…), but political pressure from the Texas legislature got involved, and was able to flex enough political muscle to change the Big 8’s mind. So with that out of the way, the question became, which four? Obviously Texas and Texas A&M were shoo-ins, but after that the remaining schools (with the exception of the death penalty riddled Southern Methodist) were a toss up. Ultimately, with pressure from high ranking politicians, Baylor and Texas Tech were the two, and together, the four of them joined with the Big 8 to create the Big XII Conference.
But what about the others? For the four schools that were left out, they were essentially left to just twist in the wind, while the others thrived in their new, greener pastures.
But remember, the key word here is Green. Now just how much are we talking about?
Money Does The Talking, Schools Do The Walking
In the Big XII according to this Business of College Sports post examining the football revenue for the 2009-2010 year, Texas was the big winner pulling in $93.4 Million, Texas A&M pulled in $41.9M, Texas Tech in third with $26.2M, and Baylor at $14.36M. Not bad scratch, particularly for Texas. But what about the four left behind schools? From Conference USA Southern Methodist brought in $12.5M, Rice just behind at $12.3M, and Houston bringing up the rear with $7.7M. Texas Christian over in the Mountain West Conference was the big winner with $20.6 Million, getting a boost from their strong play on the field.
So obviously we’re talking about a pretty big discrepancy. Baylor knows it’s got a good thing going here, and is desperate to keep what it has. Unfortunately the post has now been taken down, but the contents of their self-serving “Don’t Mess With Texas Football” campaign can be seen here. After the University posted this on their website, they received massive amounts of flack for quotes such as, “Will Texans stand by and watch hundred-year-old rivalries be cast aside as the state’s largest universities align themselves with other states across the country?” Because, as it was pointed out, it wasn’t even ten years ago that they themselves did this very thing!
One would think that any school raking in 93.4 Million dollars would prove to be sufficient enough to leave everything alone, but in the late part of 2010, the University of Texas announced that they would partner with ESPN, and create the Longhorn Network. A move which would be independent of the conference television revenue already being received, netting Texas a cool 26 Million dollars per year over the next 20 years. Close to half a Billion dollars, exclusively dropped right into their laps, courtesy of one cable network.
Why The Fuss?
Other schools, particularly Texas A&M were livid. Long looked at as the “Little Brother” to Texas anyway, having an in-state rival with their own television channel was hard to stomach.
Unease and mistrust like you just saw were rampant, but easily dismissed. That was of course until ESPN Veteran and Longhorn Network Vice President of Programming Dave Brown dropped this bomb.
“We’re going to follow the great [high school] players in the state. Obviously a kid like [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Johnathan Gray. I know people [Longhorn Network subscribers] are going to want to see Johnathan Gray, I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray.
“Feedback from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray. So we’re going to do our best to accomodate them [Longhorn Network subscribers] and follow the kids who are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited and is recruiting and everyone else the Big 12 is recruiting.
“One other thing, you may see us, I know there’s a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene in Austin.“
And with that one interview, the Vice President of Programming for arguably the most controversial sports television network in the history of college athletics, managed to throw the entire tentative truce under the ESPN bus, and bring everything crashing down in its wake.
Up next, Pt.2 examines The Ins and Outs of the Longhorn Network
2. Longhorn Network
3. Business of College Sports
4. Conference USA
5. Mountain West Conference
6. Don’t Mess With Texas Football
7. Longhorn Network Contract
8. Baylor and the Big XII
9. Angry Aggies
10. Dave Brown’s Quote