When it comes to choosing a conference, the University of Texas has a choice: does it want the nicest house in Compton or an average house in Beverly Hills?
The former is what it would have if it chooses to stick around the Big 12 to keep the Longhorn Network in a Big 12 that definitely won’t have Texas A&M, very likely won’t have Oklahoma and, by extension, Oklahoma State, and possibly won’t have Missouri, either. UT could continue to be the richest person in the neighborhood by a mile and control the local scene. Of course, the issue is that everyone in the area that has scrounged up enough of a down-payment is moving out to nicer places. The latter is what it would own if it becomes an equal TV revenue sharing partner in the Pac-12 (or for that matter, the Big Ten or SEC). In that case, UT would be another rich guy in a whole town full of rich guys, but it also won’t have to worry about the value of the house going down.
It’s a fundamental question about what UT wants/needs to be. The Big 12 as saved last summer was really UT’s dream scenario: they essentially were earning independent-type TV money in a conference with their primary regional rivals. Now that one of their rivals (A&M) might be headed out the door as early as tomorrow and their other main rival (OU) has all but declared it’s heading west to the Pac-12, is the Longhorn Network (which hasn’t even been on the air for a week) more important than UT’s conference? Larry Scott knows, just like Jim Delany and Mike Slive, that equal revenue sharing is a primary tenet of strong conference unity, so he’s not going to let UT have a separate TV deal when the schools in California like USC have already given up unequal shares in the new monster Pac-12 TV contracts.
Now, I consider Bill Powers (UT president) and Deloss Dodds (UT athletic director) to be smart men. The Longhorn athletic department didn’t become the wealthiest in the country (even before any LHN cash started coming) by accident. They likely thought that they controlled all of the cards, where as long as UT stayed in the Big 12, the other big guns of OU and A&M would, too. I certainly thought that way. While it wasn’t a surprise to find that the Big 12 wasn’t long for this world, I didn’t believe that it would be killed off only a year after its Summer 2010 stay of execution.
I can’t blame UT for going out and getting the LHN deal. Any other school that had that type of leverage would’ve done the same thing. However, I also can’t blame either A&M or OU for looking out for their own interests. Most people here know me as the guy that wrote about the possibility of Texas going to the Big Ten last year, and as much as I’d still love to see that happen in many ways, there’s really no better conference deal out there for UT than a Pac-16 that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Neither the Big Ten nor SEC would ever grant spots to OSU and Tech and even if they’re not outright political requirements for OU and UT, they ensure that the two power schools won’t be complete geographic outliers.
At this point, I can’t see how OU could rationally stay in the Big 12 (particularly after OU president David Boren’s explicit statement of no-confidence in the conference). (Note that rationality doesn’t always apply in conference decisions.) The Pac-12 would certainly be willing to take them and OSU without having Texas schools coming along, as the Sooner are a top 10 college football brand. It’s the LHN that makes what UT will ultimately decide difficult to predict. There’s just no way that channel could continue to exist within the confines of the Pac-12 (at least as a UT-branded entity). UT is going to have a really nice house no matter where it lives. What will be instructive is whether it wants the nicest house on the block or a better neighborhood. The Longhorns may not be able to have both.
(Image from musicnotes.com)