What’s Wrong With The Longhorn Network?

What’s wrong with the Longhorn Network? If you ask me, nothing.

Seems like just about everyone outside the Longhorns fanbase disagrees with me, however. All you have to do is Google “Longhorn Network unfair” and you can find a seemingly endless stream of complaints.

If you read my piece earlier this week on the BCS, you know how I feel about the “unfair” argument when it comes to college sports, or any sport for that matter. Repeat after me: sports are a business. Yes, even college sports.

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 checked another couple of sports for those of you who genuinely care about the other sports. Only 3 of 34 baseball players are from outside the state of Texas. Are there other teams with a slightly larger percentage of out-of-state players? Yes, but I don’t see the point in going down this road any further.

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?

Where do you draw the line? 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 indepenent 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 14 schools are turning a profit without having to rely on student fees or other forms of institutional support. Although the NCAA did not list the 14 schools turning a net profit, Notre Dame is one of them. We know this because Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, has revealed that Notre Dame actually pours money back into the college’s coffers, to the tune of about $10 million in 2009.

Other schools that have been confirmed to be part of the 14: Alabama, University of Missouri, University of Texas, University of Florida, University of Tennessee and Ohio State University.

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 just donated $1 million to tornado relief?

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.

*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. This, to me, is a real issue, unlike those discussed above.

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  • Brian
    May 13, 2011

    As you mentioned at the end, I think the big concern is HS football since the UT system runs HS sports in TX. If UT has any say in which HS games are aired and which players are discussed, that is leverage for recruiting that TAMU and others can’t match. I think those schools have a legitimate gripe about the network as long as UT has direct ties to HS football. And yes, I’m aware that in the past UT offered TAMU a chance to join the channel and they said no.

  • Makarov
    May 13, 2011

    I’ve never thought the Longhorn Network is something wrong, in and of itself. Rather, I think it is a poor business decision based on the alternatives, namely for UT to have joined the Pac 10 or Big 10 and hopped on their planned/existing sports channels.

    The upside for networks from large conferences is growing, nationwide revenue. What is the upside for a UT sports channel? Texas and neighboring states. The Longhorn Network might even make it into cable/satellite sports package tiers nationwide, but unlike The Big Ten Network, it will never be part of what used to be the “advanced basic”. Limited potential viewers = limited actual viewers = limited revenue.

    Texas is the second largest state in the country, yet there are plenty of Tech and A&M fans in addition to UT fans. Even a Big 12 Network channel would have upside over a UT sports channel.

    I think UT is leaving, over 10 years, something in excess of $100M on the table by deciding to go their own, independent route.

    I’d like to hear your opinion, if you have one, about why UT will make more $ on its own channel than it would have joining forces with other schools. Assume for the sake of argument that UT could have chosen to join either the Pac 10 or Big 10. I believe they could have.