Longhorn Network: Death Knell Of The Big 12?

Back in the 1950s, with the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco, New York City found itself with only one baseball team, the Yankees.

And despite the so-called popularity of the sport, there were still only 16 major league teams.

With New York attorney William Shea in the lead, an attempt was made to form a third major league, the Continental Baseball League. Baseball legend Branch Rickey was chosen to lead this new league which would have teams in places like New York, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Denver, and Toronto.

The league never got much past the discussion stage, and MLB pretty much destroyed it by placing teams in New York and Houston and moving a failing franchise to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But some of the great ideas of the league would live on, particularly the idea of revenue sharing.

Lamar Hunt, attempting to get his own football league going, borrowed this revenue-sharing idea for the AFL, and as such, the eight franchises shared equally in all national television revenue. The thinking was that the good of the league, the survival of the league, was more important than the economic success of any one franchise, because the economic success of one franchise would be worthless if the league failed.

Several years later, the young commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, was able to sell the 14 NFL owners on this concept, and with approval of Congress, was able to shop the NFL as a whole to the networks.

It was from this concept that the NFL grew to become America's biggest sport. With Green Bay getting the same revenue as the Giants, all of the teams were able to prosper, and as the teams prospered, the product prospered.

Why the history lesson?

Because my reading of what Texas is doing to the Big 1210* leads me to believe that Texas is ignoring the lessons learned by the NFL in its effort to make every dollar that it can.

There's nothing wrong with doing this, but when the overall product of the conference is weakened because none of the other schools have the revenue generated by the All Longhorns All The Time Network, Texas itself might find end up finding its overall position so weakened that once again the very existence of the Big 1210 will be in doubt.

For instance, most college sports programs aren't very profitable. And with Colorado and Nebraska having to pay huge fees to the Big 1210 so that they could split for better climates, there was a good chance that schools like Iowa State and Baylor and Missouri could get some additional money that would help them fund their football programs and their other minor sports.

Instead, Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri all decided to give their shares of that money to Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma so that they would stay in the league.

This money probably isn't that much to Texas - it may end up equaling what Mack Brown makes in a year - but it could have done a lot to help a struggling schools like Missouri.

Then there's the All Longhorn All The Time Network.

Most conferences are entering into conference networks like the Big 10 Network, which is a huge success. The Pac 10 is attempting to set its own network.

In these networks, all of the conference schools share equally. This gives money -- in the Big 10, lots of money -- to the member schools to use on their athletic programs. And along with that, the networks provide programming for all conference sports, not just football and men's basketball, and all athletes at all schools are able to get a moment in the sun.

This was one of the concepts that the Pac 10 was pitching to Texas. A Pac 10 Network which would just be all Pac 10 sports, all the time. It would be patterned after the Big 10 Network, with the network jointly owned by Fox Sports and the conference.

But this wasn't good enough for Texas because Texas wanted its own network, and the Pac 10 wouldn't let Texas form its own network. The Big 1210, so desperate not to become extinct, told Texas to do whatever it wanted, and this whatever it wanted will probably end up being its own network, the revenue of which will not have to be shared with any other conference school.

There's nothing wrong with Texas doing this. It's kind of what the New York Yankees do in major league baseball, i.e. anything to win and make money. But baseball wouldn't be as much fun if the Boston Red Sox weren't able to match the Yankees dollar for dollar in order to keep up. And the AL East just isn't fun if you're a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which aren't able to match the Yankees spending - or the Yankees' brains, seeing some of the stupid personnel moves the Orioles have been making for a decade or so.

The Longhorns did what is best, what is right, for the Longhorns. But at some point, only Longhorn diehards are going to tune in to watch the Horns beat up on schools that can't recruit the same quality of players or get the same quality of coaches because they don't have the budges to do so. And when this time comes, there might not be a big conference just sitting around waiting to save Texas.

*I got this from Charlie Pallilo. I don't know where he got it from.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal