More on The Longhorn Network

Last Updated on July 14, 2011

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.

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  • Brian Mortensen
    July 14, 2011

    Agree with you. And as we saw last year, just because Texas rakes in the most money doesn’t mean they’ll win anything. It annoys me that some fans will be forced to watch a Big 12 game on the Longhorn Network this year, but at this point the LHN doesn’t have any carriers who plan to provide it in the state of Texas, so it’s a moot issue if LHN doesn’t find cable/satellite carriers to pick it up.

  • Tom Barton
    July 14, 2011

    Good info on the Longhorn Network. Although I live in Texas, I won’t be watching it. I am waiting for the Pac-12 Network.

    By the way, not all high school championship games take place at the UT Campus. For at least the past 2 years, the final four state high school soccer tournament for both boys and girls has taken place at the stadium on the campus of Southwestern University (DIII) in Georgetown, TX.

  • T J
    July 15, 2011

    Absolutely disagree.

    First of all, your reasoning could be used to support the argument to allow Texas to pay recruits to commit to them. After all, Texas cherrypicks who it wants – it wouldn’t make a difference right?

    Moreover, anyone who watches college football understands that dominance is cyclical. Texas had a good decade and a half of mediocrity before Mack Brown came along. Allowing the school’s network to have access to recruits maintains the status quo – who is to say it doesn’t have an effect.

    And what if Texas decides it wants a top CA or FL recruit and ESPN subsequently profiles that recruit and his high school games on the network.

    I don’t think the network is per se unfair. But we should only expect schools to compete with other schools; as it stands, all other Big 12 schools must compete with ESPN, which is not subject to NCAA recruiting rules.

    • Kristi Dosh
      July 15, 2011

      I don’t see a problem on two fronts…

      One, if you’re going to allow University of Texas to run high school sports in Texas, then the Longhorn Network doesn’t change much. Texas doesn’t really leave Texas to recruit, particularly for football. If you want to propose the NCAA allow neither, fine. But if you allow the first, the second doesn’t change much.

      Two, how is it any different than a school like Florida and their affiliation with Sun Sports? All their games are replayed there and other sports are aired there, I believe they also show some high school games. Florida doesn’t own the network, but they’ve long been partners.

      There are always going to be schools with more visibility because of public demand: think Notre Dame, the first school to basically have its own network.

      Perfect equality does not breed productivity or creativity.

      • T J
        July 15, 2011

        The UIL is affiliated with Texas, yes. That does not mean that Texas “runs” high school football. The UIL administers rules on all things high school related – drug tests for athletes, band competitions, etc. I’m not sure why you think the UIL has an effect on recruiting.

        And Texas doesn’t leave the state to recruit because it doesn’t have as much influence outside of the state. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to. While Texas is a very fertile recruiting ground, Texas prospects do not make up the majority of the top high school players every year. Of the Rivals top 20 players this year, 2 are from Texas. You think UT doesn’t want the other 18? Now, with the network, they can showcase any recruit they’d like as well as their schools.

        Sun Sports is affiliated with more than one school, so the analogy doesn’t work. That’s more akin to the Big Ten network.

        I’m not advocating equality – let the network be subject to recruiting rules and all is fine. Other than that, yes, it doesn’t give an advantage. Oklahoma has less money and less prestige and in terms of wins, conference championships and BCS game appearances, it has ruled the Big 12.

  • JRB
    July 16, 2011

    I think another big argument to strengthen your stance is that 10% of programming on the Longhorn Network must be dedicated to non-athletic shows. This will account for about 3 hours a day purely dedicated to the other parts of the University (academics, arts, cultural events, campus, etc).

    Also, I do not know the revenue split, but I imagine the University will receive a decent percentage of any generated revenue, another example of how the network could benefit the greater good for the university.

  • Jim Markel
    July 22, 2011

    With all due respect, you are wrong in your analysis.

    At the time the Longhorn Network was announced, many thinking people were wondering how a 24/7 cable channel would build a viable content model around 1-2 UT football games and 6-8 UT men’s basketball games.

    Looking back on public statements made by Dr. Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the University Interscholastic League in November 2010 and Burke Magnus, ESPN Senior Vice President for College Sports Programming in January 2011, it is clear that the signature piece of content ESPN wanted to acquire was the right to air Texas high school sports, particularly football, on the Longhorn Network and the UIL was more than happy for this to happen.

    This means the Longhorn Network is unfairly favorable to UT in two significant ways:

    First, it allows them to monetize Texas high school football since that will be the key piece of programming on the Longhorn Network in terms of amount of inventory and viewer value taken together. This means UT has leveraged its relationship with the UIL to become not just oversight assistance but actual profiteering.

    Second, since the Longhorn Network enriches both UT and the UIL, but with control vested in UT rather than the UIL, they have near total control over the entire high school sports apparatus from rule-making to revenue-generating to marketing.

    Both of these issues above should not be allowed by NCAA rules.

    (Btw, UT is the only university left that has this kind of control over high school sports since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association became independent of UNC last year. In my opinion, the NCAA should force this to change with UT and UIL as well.)

    Here are links to the two stories I referenced in case you want to read the direct quotes from Breithaupt and Magnus

    UIL already has its eyes upon proposed Longhorn network:

    ESPN: Prep sports key to UT network:

  • Jonathan Gwinn
    September 29, 2011


    You don’t buy into the equality argument? Take a look at the SEC and see Auburn,Alabama,LSU,Florida and Tennessee with National Championships/repeat championships since the formation of the BCS…No other conference even comes close. You don’t think equal revenue sharing has something to do with it? Revenue sharing raises all boats. With Texas A&M entering the SEC watch recruiting improve for the Aggies. A more level playing field generates more interest among all fans. Part of the reason a playoff system would generate a wider viewing audience. Without revenue sharing the SEC could have easily evolved into an unstable Big 12 winner take all conference. For example, Florida was non-existant as a national player during the early years/1980’s of SEC membership. Demographic trends help to change this in addition to equal TV revenue splits.