Texas Following Notre Dame Template?
The seismic effects of the conference realignments on the NCAA landscapes presents so almost unlimited angles to cover. Whether by design or stubbornness, the UT Longhorn’s dream of their Longhorn Network has left them following a path strangely similar to Notre Dame’s 20 years ago. The NBC contract showered great revenues on the Fighting Irish, and, seemingly, tilted the competitive field in their direction — how could anyone recruit against them and their regular TV exposure. A funny thing happened on the way to the bank … the SEC, Big Ten, ACC,and Big East expanded. The Big 8 and SWC consolidated. These new alignments created TV-friendly weekly matchups, AL-FL, Penn St.-Michigan, Texas-Nebraksa that dwarfed the weekly ND game. Air Force-Notre Dame or Pitt-Notre Dame now looked like some cable access telecast. The revenue continued but the recruits did not.
I’ll skip all of the details regarding the Longhorn Network to Big 12 members or other conferences. In the end, it looks like Texas will stay in a new Big 12 (Big 9 plus maybe BYU and one or two others). Texas will have its network, albeit with likely some revenue sharing as Oklahoma now has some leverage. While not totally independent as is Notre Dame, there are similarities. Texas will reside in a conference with no equals or near equals in terms of fan base. Competitively, the conference will have only one marquee game per year — Texas-Oklahoma. It’s a recipe for diminished interest by recruits with other marquee TV games galore. As ND learned, all the storied history and school pride in the world doesn’t mean much to 17 year-olds, who see where the real attention is flowing. The one advantage that Texas may hold over ND is a “natural”, geographic recruiting base.
Texas’ seeming lack of interest in the SEC is puzzling. Maybe the Longhorn Network killed interest on both sides. Beyond athletics, the associations with Stanford, Cal, and UCLA held some allure for UT. However, Vandy and Florida have strong academics, Georgia is coming on and many of the other schools are solid and likely to continue improving over the next several decades. King of the Southern Plains seems to be the UT objective. We’ll see if that works out better than ND’s kingship.
A side point on realignment. As I wondered before, is 16 teams too many? Does the size essentially create two conferences with a single name, at least in football, where contests between any two inter-divisional teams will be fairly infrequent.