The Longhorn Network has played the role of heel between Texas and their Big 12 counterparts since the channels inception. As the struggles continue to organically attract subscribers, the LHN seems intent to go the route of hijacking games featuring Longhorn opponents in an effort to make other fan bases “say uncle” and purchase their network.
Chris Level and Aaron Dickens of RedRaiderSports.com reported last week that ESPN was angling to air Texas Tech’s September 8th road game against Texas State on the LHN. Even though this is technically something ESPN is within their rights to do, the story still caught my eye for a not so obvious reason.
The fact that ESPN is scrambling to make their $300 million investment viable by any means necessary is not surprising. In fact, it’s what businesses do – obtain assets and make them profitable.
It’s also not surprising the Longhorns are, once again, the catalyst of angst and discomfort with other members of the Big 12 conference. At this point, it would not be a stretch to attribute the Longhorns as the main reason Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 conference.
Last but not least, it sure as hell isn’t a shocker that, for the second year in a row, Texas Tech and Kirby Hocutt will have to unwaveringly knock Deebo the (expletive) out after repeated attempts to bully the Red Raiders into playing football on the LHN. Something the university has made perfectly clear they are not okay with.
Most of these actions would be taken in disbelief throughout majority of the conferences in college football. Basically, in Big 12 country, Texas pissing everyone of is the norm.
The part of this story that caught me off-guard wasn’t even in the story itself, but more so the timing of its leak to the public. Why now?
Over the past couple of months, the Big 12 miraculously transformed from a conference wasteland into one of the four power conferences in college football.
A projected $2 billion TV deal, the new Champions Bowl tie-in with the SEC, rumors of powerhouses Florida State and Clemson wanting to join, welcoming TCU as a new member, welcoming West Virginia as a new member, and Bob Bowlsby’s homerun hire as the new conference commissioner.
It as if the conference was at a five star resort, relaxing poolside, sipping champagne as their pinky stretches high in the air and all the while with total amnesia of the near conference bankruptcy they were faced with just months prior. Things could not have been better at the moment for the Big 12.
And then a tropical storm came spiraling in to ruin everyone’s good time.
Two weeks prior, ESPN announced they were adding 68 college football games to the network’s 2012 schedule. Out of the 68, only two games were listed with channels as TBD – Sept 8th Texas Tech @ Texas State and Sept 27th Nevada @ Texas State.
The TBD channel listing looked like it was construed by Tech officials as a simple matter of ESPN determining which one of the platforms traditional channels to place the game on. At the time, it seemed understood that putting Big 12 members on the LHN was considered taboo (for obvious reasons).
Fast forward two weeks later, a day before the news broke about ESPN’s intended distribution of the Texas Tech-Texas State matchup, 11 conference commissioners plus Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick were meeting in Chicago to discuss a possible playoff format and the future of college football’s post season. With rumors swirling about expansion, it was assumed the outcome of these meetings would determine if the Big 12 would look to add teams or stand pat to best position the conference in future playoff scenarios.
Before the meetings in Chicago, the Big 12 appeared settled and echoed unity as the most important factor to strengthen the conference. All parties were playing nice and everything was hunky-dory throughout the conference. It was a changed atmosphere that seemed very inviting to where high profile programs, like Florida State and Clemson, would desire allegiance to the conference.
After the meetings in Chicago, the dysfunction is back. The perception of Texas and the LHN resurfaced as the mongering thorn in the side of the Big 12 conference. The conference now has a familiar, overbearing, sour stench plaguing its public image.
Did something happen during these meetings to change Texas and ESPN’s stance on playing nice with other members in the face of conference realignment?
Texas and ESPN both knew that even suggesting something of this magnitude would set off fireworks within the conference, which is exactly what happened.
Rather than play a game on the LHN, Texas Tech threatened to cancel the game altogether with Texas State and pay a huge financial penalty to take a loss from a team they demolished last season by 40 points. That is a very strong gesture for a program in Tech’s situation that is trying to become bowl eligible after missing a bowl game last season for the first time in 18 years.
The timing of this issue appears very calculated from a big picture point of view. This left me wondering how the new playoff format relates to Big 12 expansion and if there are underlying self-serving agendas a-foot in Bristol.
Does this mean the new playoff format it will curb conference realignment? Creating havoc in your own conference does not indicate the behavior of a group trying to attract other universities to join the conference. Especially high profile programs like FSU and Clemson.
To even attempt such a desperate ploy like the one reported last Thursday suggests ESPN and Texas are in panic mode over the LHN. With merely two months now and the beginning of the college football season, every day is precious to secure programming for the flailing network. Therefore, causing ESPN’s intentions with the Sept. 8th Tech @ Texas State game to be leaked as soon as possible.
If the new playoff format eliminates the crazy conference carousel, then there is little reason for the Big 12 to be courting teams to join the conference (at least in the Longhorn’s position). With no one to impress, the Longhorns are free to become a nuisance towards whoever they please.
Does this indicate ESPN is working to help keep the ACC intact? It seems like a calculated maneuver to help discourage two valuable teams from leaving a conference they just signed a new TV deal with. ESPN probably won’t be able to get out of the deal if FSU and Clemson leave and certainly won’t get the return on investment from that contract without them in the ACC.
If you think the rumors of potential realignment between these two teams are merely message board speculation, think again. The only thing consistent in conference realignment over the past few years has been the seriousness behind the scenes once rumors emerge. Look at Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska, Pac 16, etc. They either happened or were moments away from becoming very real.
Inciting a riot within the Big 12 may be enough to cause FSU and Clemson to tap the brakes and buy the ACC some time to smooth things over with their disgruntled members.
Whether or not the trickle-down effect of the Longhorn Network’s latest faux pas this enough to make schools like Florida State or Clemson rethink any future decision to apply for Big 12 membership remains to be seen. However, it certainly makes the conference look like a less appealing option for universities who could be looking for a new place to call home.
Welcome to the Cold War of college football where all things controversial are much ado about nothing.