Lost in the SEC universe this week was the story Monday that the Big 12 conference--otherwise known as the nine remaining teams not named Texas--put their foot down to nix certain aspects of the new Longhorn Network debuting the 26th of this month. If you recall back to last year's spring and summer, we saw the defection of Nebraska and Colorado to other BCS conferences and the subsequent shameless shopping of itself by the Longhorns to just about any conference that might make them a sweetheart deal. The possibility of Texas leaving the Big 12 had every major conference scrambling to shore itself up not only from possible defections itself, but for improbable Pangea-like expansions brought on by the sudden glut of marketable teams left homeless if the Horns bailed.
One of the reasons Texas decided to stick it out where they were was that the remaining schools quickly agreed to allow them their prize jewel, the Longhorn Network, partnered with ESPN, which would show 24 hour Texas athletics, including of course, football. This deal would be worth almost $250 million over 20 years to the Horns. Not surprisingly, the rest of the conference has realized what a monster they created and took steps Monday to stand up for themselves and remarkably, got what they wanted. For now.
Probably the biggest point of contention was the broadcast of high school games of interest to Longhorn fans, ostensibly those which feature future Longhorn recruits. Now before you go calling the NCAA and referring to the Nick Saban rules, remember that the NCAA doesn't recognize verbal commits, only signed LOIs, and every prep player featured on any such broadcast is still technically able to be recruited--even if they're showcased on something known as the Longhorn Network. Surreal, yes, but for now, Texas has agreed to a one-year delay of this aspect of the programming so that the NCAA can have time to weigh in fully and allow the remaining schools to assess their next move.
The other point of contention was that no conference game can be shown on the Network unless the conference and the opponent approves, which seems pretty automatic for both big and small teams. I'm quite certain that cupcakes signed away that distinction when they endorsed that big fat check. I've seen no mention of where they're going to get the announcers for the games, whether they'll be seasoned ESPN staff or Texas's own guys. Anyone know what Mike Leach is up to now?
I can only pretend to have a small grasp of the politics going on in the Lone Star state and the Big 12 conference, but I honestly can't imagine this status quo lasting for long. The next two biggest stars, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, may deepen the divide with their future plans. The Sooners are certainly big enough to have their own network and possibly the Aggies, too. Evidently, there's a large faction of A&M fans who are sore that they didn't defect to the SEC last year, which leads one to believe that those offer rumors were a lot more true than we realized.
There's no sense in having a conference at all if all your major players want to have their own little network and continually strive to carve out a larger piece of the revenue pie for themselves. While perfectly normal for normal businesses (YES, I KNOW COLLEGE SPORTS IS A BUSINESS), I just don't believe that college football is served at all by that notion. Is this what our sport is becoming, to have the cream of the conference crops tire of lugging the others around with them and segregate themselves forever financially from their lesser cousins?
There could be a good chance that Texas could become an independent once the honeymoon is over in the new Big Twelveten. Is that what we need, more Notre Dames? BYU going rogue is uninteresting everywhere outside Utah, but Texas could pull it off for a while--before all their historical rivals shun them out and the Horns have no one of historical or regional interest to play except for all the nerdy girls they used to blow off in high school like Houston, Rice and the acronym schools.
We'll never get to a playoff without the solidification of the major conferences with divisional play and having conference championship games serve as de facto first rounds of said playoff, and allowing the big guns in each conference to spin off into little independent satellites orbiting the CFB solar system is no way to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, I don't see the Big 12 surviving the orbiting of the Longhorn sun for long and it won't be long before CFB plays musical conferences once again.