So who is coming over to my house for the big party tonight? What is it for? Why, Texas versus Pepperdine in women's volleyball, of course! Isn't that what everyone wants to see?
Tonight is the launch of the new Longhorn Network, the love child of the UT athletics department and ESPN, and for its first sporting event, they've decided to kick things off with women's volleyball. That will presumably be followed by more volleyball, a bunch of old UT games and then some more volleyball.
(Cue Hank Williams Jr. voice) "Are you ready for some soccer?!?"
Get used to it. In a classic case of "Ready, Fire, Aim," the Longhorn Network is born tonight to a viewing audience of virtually nobody (thanks to a complete lack of provider deals, save a contract agreed to yesterday with Verizon FIOS and some small systems announced today) with a programming grid rife with games and shows that should draw little more than the parents of the players involved.
To be clear, I think the Longhorn Network has some very talented people both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. In particular, I've always thought Lowell Galindo (studio anchor) did a solid job on ESPNU and I am a huge fan of the work of Samantha Steele (sideline reporter).
Talent is not the issue. Content is the issue.
It would seem to me that if a school were going to conceive a network that would become its own de facto broadcasting arm all things Longhorn, and if a network of highly intelligent, very powerful people at ESPN were going to cut a $300 million check, that someone would have gazed at a sample weekend programming grid before deciding this was a good/profitable idea.
Put simply, if you were buying a home, you wouldn't blindly cut a check to the builder after mere conceptual discussions of the house. You would ask him or her to draw up blueprints, and maybe an artist's rendition drawing as well. Then once you believed the home would meet your needs, then (and only then) would you agree to pay the builder.
The Longhorn Network is so ill conceived that it would appear to be the equivalent of a horny home buyer cutting a hot-looking builder a check blindly just so he can sleep with her. Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com all but said that's what the network is when he appeared on my show, basically saying that ESPN agreed to the Longhorn Network so they would have a spot on the Texas train for the next round of television negotiations later this decade.
Quality programming be damned.
And now THIS is supposedly the entity that is going to send Texas A&M packing for SEC country, and possibly set off the next seismic shift in the college football landscape, because let's face it -- the only thing keeping BCS football conferences from expanding to 16 teams is that no one's decided to do it yet. A&M puts the SEC at 13.
Thirteen teams is not desirable; 16 teams is the only logical destination. (Thirteen teams is basically like Barstow, California, a hellhole in the middle of the Cali desert. When you leave Barstow, which is highly logical, and head east, there's only one reason you'd go that way -- to get to Vegas. Yes, 16 teams is Vegas, on so many levels.)
Once the SEC goes to 16 teams, the land grab is on. The 12-team Big Ten will go get four more, the Pac-12 will go get four more, and the ACC and Big East will have a brawl that metaphorically resembles all of the battle scenes in Braveheart.
And the trigger point for all of that will have been a network that launches today to practically zero eyeballs and whose content is largely Olympic sports and replays of old games.
In 1990, when Notre Dame signed its deal with NBC to broadcast all of the Irish home games, Irish haters lamented (and continued to for years) that Notre Dame "had its own network." But last I checked, Notre Dame had nothing to do with the production of Seinfeld, Friends, ER, The Office or Dateline. In actuality, the Notre Dame "has its own network" bluster was a lot of hyperbole; what they had was a partnership with a network to be their exclusive college football content provider a mere six Saturdays a year. That's it.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Texas does have its own network, and they are in partnership with ESPN to provide any compelling content they possibly can 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round. They need to do this under the restrictions of providing just one football game, a few basketball games, and a truckload of old Longhorn film, "UT Best of" shows, and every Olympic sport under the sun.
Yeah, Texas hooked 'em. They hooked ESPN. Hook, line and sinker.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Yahoo! Sports Radio (Sirius 94, XM 208) and on 1560 The Game, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.