Yesterday I went on the Tim Brando Show (audio here) and discussed the Longhorn Network. I’ve written about this previously, and basically I have no problem with the Longhorn Network. Let me expand on my reasons why.
Some of you like to argue that college sports being operated as a business is the root of the problem. I’ve heard your concerns about your tax dollars going to support these institutions that pour money into athletic departments operating in the red. But guess what – you can’t feel that way and also preach to me about how college athletes should be paid or why Texas shouldn’t be allowed to have their own network. Feel free to disregard if none of that applies to you.
The main complaint I’m hearing regarding the Longhorn Network is that it will give Texas an unfair recruiting advantage. If you could see me, you’d know that I’m rolling my eyes. Let’s drop the facade that you care about anything other than football recruiting, because for the majority of you, you don’t. Take a look at the Longhorn’s spring football roster. There are eight players from outside the state of Texas. Eight out of ninety-eight. Texas doesn’t have to leave the state, and neither do their airwaves, in order to recruit for football.
I read one account (which I would link to if I could find again, but it wasn’t a unique argument) where the author was indeed worried about these other sports. He was concerned that athletes in sports outside of football and basketball would choose Texas because their parents could watch them on the Longhorn Network. How is this any different than an athlete from Tampa who could choose University of Florida because Sun Sports airs Florida’s softball games?
Another issue I’ve seen covered involves plans to carry high school games on the Longhorn Network. The concern is that paid employees of the Longhorn Network will have contact with recruits.
Here’s the problem with all the recruiting arguments against the Longhorn Network: they can’t get much more of an advantage than they already have. Did you know the University of Texas runs high school sports in Texas. Yes, you heard me right. In 1903, the University of Texas created the University Interscholastic League, which facilitates competitions in everything from athletics to music to academics. On its website, the University Interscholastic League states that it continues to be run by the Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas.
While the football championship games are not played on the University of Texas campus, many other sports do play their championship games (and some semi-final games) on campus, including soccer, softball, track and field and swimming. In addition, all state level academic competitions take place on University of Texas’ campus, and I’ve been told University of Texas faculty and students often judge these competitions.
Does the Longhorn Network really give Texas any recruiting advantage it doesn’t already have?
And where do you draw the line when it comes to television rights? A school can sell its third-tier rights to a regional network like Sun Sports or Comcast Sports Southeast, but they can’t own a network where they air that material. They can even be independent like Notre Dame and sell their own first tier rights, but they can’t own a network where they air games that fall under third tier rights. Schools can pool their rights and have their own conference network, but an individual school can’t have their own network.
And let’s not forget that any sport Texas shows would involve at least one other school who would be getting exposure. Don’t we want more exposure for Olympic sports? Isn’t there a chance a kid will see Baylor playing Texas in baseball and say, “Hey, I’d much rather go to a smaller school. Maybe I’ll check out Baylor.”
We’ve discussed before how only 22 schools are turning a profit without having to rely on student fees or other forms of institutional support. Shouldn’t we be encouraging more athletic departments to do whatever they can to be self-sufficient? Don’t we like to hear that Notre Dame’s athletic department gave $10 million to the university in 2009 or that Alabama’s athletic department donated $1 million to tornado relief or that Florida recently gave back $6 million to the university?
I get that not every school can do what Texas is doing. In fact, I think you only need one hand to count the schools who can.
I despise many of these everyone-has-to-be-equal arguments. Equality does not breed creativity. Equality does not motivate people. If no matter what I did my colleague was still going to be at the same level and pay as me, why would I invest more time or energy (or in the case of athletic departments, money)?
The Dallas Morning News spoke to Missouri athletics director Mike Alden who mentioned his answer to the Longhorn Network is developing applications for mobile devices.
“I think what it means for us, it means we have to continue to find ways to deliver our product,” Alden said.
Can Missouri create the same kind of financial gains with this as Texas can with their network? Of course not. But they can invent something new, something Texas hasn’t thought of. That’s what I want to see. People pushed to innovation.
You will never be able to create a perfectly even playing field. Some schools will always have larger stadiums or larger alumni bases for contributions or some other advantage. Yes, you have to draw a line somewhere. You can’t allow schools to go out and buy recruits. I simply don’t see a good reason why a school can’t own a television network and broadcast their own sports contests.