I'll be honest, college realignment is perhaps the most difficult subject I have ever had to write about. My Real Analysis class in college was easier to grasp and I once scored a 14/100 on a test there. You can also tell why I never got that PhD in mathematics... In trying to tackle the most recent realignment developments over at Crystal Ball Run, there was one element to the grand scheme of things I couldn't get past.
The big, bad, Longhorn Network.
Yes, that beeming burnt orange creation of the University of Texas and ESPN appears to be the reason why the plug was pulled on the latest round of realignment talks. It seemed that Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech were going to finish off the Big XII and move on to the greener pastures of the Pac 12 as of 48 hours ago. However, late Tuesday night, the Pac 12 and commissioner Larry Scott released a message saying the conference was not going to expand beyond 12 teams. The key portion of the statement was this little nugget aimed squarely between the eyes of Texas:
While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve. With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us.””
We've previously discussed the Pac 12's interesting idea of not only a national television network, but regional networks split between the teams as well. Clearly, Texas didn't want to play that game as they dealt with leaving the Big XII for the Pac 12. Texas and the Longhorn Network doesn't align with a "culture of equality" that exists in the Pac 12. That culture of equality is non-existent in the Big XII, where the conference might as well be named Texas and the Little 9.
It may feel like the first Bush administration when this happened... but think back to a year ago when the Big XII was again teetering on the edge of existence. In a compromise pulled out of the fire, the Big XII was pieced together with Elmer's glue and duct tape thanks to a conference model that allowed Texas the green light for the Longhorn Network. This meant the University of Texas would pull in much more dough than their Big XII rivals, which was already happening in unequal revenue splits. A year ago, this was perfect for Texas - they got to play the Big XII savior card while also getting stupid rich. Schools like Baylor, Mizzou, and Kansas could stay under Texas' wrath, but at least that would be better than the Mountain West.
However, the good will from the resurrection of the Big XII didn't last for long. Andy Staples put it best in Sports Illustrated a couple months ago...
The buzzards took flight again this week because of an internal squabble among league members over The Longhorn Network, Texas' new 24-hour channel that will launch Aug. 26. What's interesting is that The Longhorn Network is one of the main reasons the Big 12 still exists. Now, the Big 12's existence seems threatened by The Longhorn Network. Quite a paradox, isn't it?
With the Longhorn Network becoming a reality this summer, the trigger fingers of antsy Big XII schools got itchy again. Evidently, it must have kicked in that they had submitted to Texas being unquestioned lord and master of the world. When the plans of the LN televising high school games and other details were being floated around this summer, Texas A&M showed their own SEC speed in bolting for the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies left largely to get out of the shadow of Texas and, you guessed it, the Longhorn Network, which has been the key to any and everything involving realignment...