The Longhorn Network and Big 12 Recruiting: Not The Core Issue

Last summer, as Expansionpalooza 2010™ was winding down, I wrote that the only true winner of the expansion sweepstakes was the University of Texas for the following reasons:

1) They controlled the narrative from start (on June 9) to finish.

2) They will, if Dan Bebee's deus ex machina is working properly, a significantly larger amount of revenue from the Big 12 minus 2 television deal.

3) They have been given the go-ahead to create their own Longhorn Sports Network, which will reap them additional cash

4) Assuming most things in the conference play out like they have, it will truly come down to Texas and Oklahoma for the Big 12 title most years in the new round-robin format for the league. Considering that poll inertia occurs most years, Texas remains in the BCS hunt without having to play that pesky conference title game.

5) They have asserted their will and flexed their muscles, cementing their hold on a conference they already dominated to some extent. Hell, there is even a chance that the five lost souls (Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State) have decided to vote the income that will be withheld from Colorado and Nebraska to be redirected towards Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

Texas surprisingly struggled last season, going an unexpected 5-7 for the worst season in the Mack Brown era. 

But ultimately, off the field, Texas got what they wanted, as the Longhorn Network launches this fall. Texas is the first school to form and launch their own network. In addition to their own network, Texas is part of the new rights deal for the Big 12 with Fox Sports. Huzzah.

However, with the launch of a real network comes concerns. Things that are spoken about in theory look different once there is an actual plan in place.

And that's where ESPN comes in.

See, ESPN has programming to fill. It's not like they're going to throw up a test pattern for several hours a day. It was announced as a 24 hour network, and ESPN is paying Texas $15 million dollars a year for this venture for the next 20 years. That's a whole lot of investment, and ESPN needs eyeballs on the network to recoup their investment.

Which means that you have to put something on. And so, in a state that is crazy about football at all levels, why not high school football?

Some coaches and administrators, though, think that gives Texas an unfair competitive advantage in recruiting. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops said, "“The lifeblood of every program is recruiting. And so we either all recruit by the same rules, or we don’t."

Gary Pinkel was even more direct, according to the Columbia Tribune.

"You’re going to advertise your school on there, where you list all the great recruits you have on there? There’s just no common sense there. That can’t happen. Are you kidding me?"

Maybe this puts me in the minority, and I admit I'm still searching the NCAA Manual for a rationale, but I don't see how this impacts recruiting. I just don't.

On the surface, I can see where it might be viewed as a competitive advantage, but the last time I checked, the maximum number of students that UT could sign is 25 in a given class. They still have a scholarship limit on the roster of 85. 

It's not like there is going to be a rush of 50 top players in the state of Texas all going to Austin for school. It's just not going to happen. That doesn't even factor in the idea of competition because of position depth and top prospects usually wanting to play as soon as possible.

I can also see where some coaches would say that by having the Longhorn Network to pick up Texas's games that aren't carried by the conference's partner networks would be a competitive advantage, at most one UT game a season doesn't get picked up by ESPN, ABC or Fox Sports (usually a game against an FCS school). So is one extra televised game going to be enough to sway a top 50 recruit to go to a particular institution? I doubt it.

Here is what I think, though: The Longhorn Network is still a bad deal for the conference. Yes, Texas sticking around did help in the negotiations with Fox to get a better conference wide television deal, and every school does have the option to create their own networks.

But remember the numbers that Texas is getting from ESPN: $300 million over 20 years. That was coming off of a 5-7 season. Imagine what the numbers would have been if the deal had been done after the 2009 season, when Texas was playing for the mythical national championship.

And to be frank: There is no other school in the conference that has the stroke that Texas does. None. Even Oklahoma, who has been a stronger team over the life of the conference (and especially over the last decade) couldn't command the kind of deal that Texas got with the ESPN partnership.

Yet the presidents and athletic directors had to sign off on this deal. Everyone had to agree to this. So to complain about the terms of this agreement now is a bit bitter as far as I am concerned.

(Note: By the way, I still maintain that the end game in this is that Texas winds up going independent within the next four to five years. Having the network in place now would facilitate that and the partnership with ESPN only adds to the potential sweetheart deal that could be made with Texas creating their own schedule. I also believe that Texas is one a handful of schools that could actually survive today as an independent and also still compete for a national title.)

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