University of Texas' TV network is a lucrative web of conflicts
The University of Texas is getting its own television channel, featuring all the great Texas sporting events that you never wanted to watch. The new network will feature at least one football game a year, eight men's basketball games, assorted nonrevenue sporting events, high school sports, university news, coverage of lectures and visiting speakers, commencement ceremonies ... I know, I know, you have the same question I do: WHERE DO I SIGN UP FOR COVERAGE OF THESE AWESOME LECTURES?
ESPN is playing Texas $300 million over the next 20 years for the privilege of distributing the network. Like all of you, I look forward to watching this channel, especially its nightly one-hour live special, "Bevo Takes A Leak." I am thrilled for the University of Texas and especially the city of Austin. I visited Austin for a few days once and still cannot fully explain why I left. What an amazing city.
And of course, I am thrilled for the whole state of Texas, which plans to use the $300 million to buy the state of Nebraska, then donate Nebraska to charity, just to prove that Texas doesn't need Nebraska.
In the last 50 years, we have gone from amateur sports, to conferences finding revenue streams to keep athletic departments solvent (and support the nonrevenue athletes), to coaches making millions of dollars a year while star players can't get paid, to this: Texas is going so far into its own financial stratosphere that the rest of the Big Twelvish can't possibly keep up.
If you're a Texas fan and you think, "Oh, come on, 95 percent of schools would do this if they had a chance," I think you're wrong. It's more like 98 percent. So this isn't about Texas. I don't fault UT at all.
But the NCAA is trying to run a billion-dollar business with amateur employees, and it's not a tenable situation. Just for example: By most accounts, the Longhorns' network will feature coverage of high school games.
I find this interesting, because the other night, as I was reading the NCAA rule book to my four-year-old (she wanted to know why there were no princesses in it, and I said "Be patient, sweetie, it's all explained in Rule 16.4.7.03, Paragraph (e)"), I came across this little section:
To translate (c): Schools cannot arrange for recruits to be on television.
Well, OF COURSE Texas will try to get the best high school games, featuring the best recruits, on its television network. That is what viewers want, and it's what benefits UT. Don't you think Texas will get a recruiting advantage by putting certain high school games on its network? Will high school coaches steer kids to Texas in the hopes of getting their games on TV?
This is shady territory, and I'm sure ESPN will launch a thorough investigation after it goes into its business partnership with the University of Texas. Will the NCAA have the guts to put a stop to this? Will new NCAA president Mark Emmert say "Hey, you guys can have your own network, but we have a church-and-state separation between college and high school sports, and you can't cross that line"?
Hey! Stop laughing!
As with so much of the NCAA, when money is at stake, everything else becomes irrelevant. So there is an excellent chance that, come September, the University of Texas will be promoting and televising games featuring its star recruits, with UT-approved announcers interviewing those star recruits and telling listeners how wonderful they are.
(Side note: If you go to www.longhornnetwork.com, you get ... a website that sells "Exception Wyoming Warpaint Future Herd Sires," which surprised me, because Wyoming is not even prime recruiting territory. Apparently that site is for longhorn cattle, not Longhorn players. On longhornnetwork.com, you can also get "Semen from Bueno Chex." I don't know who this Bueno Chex fellow is, but I look forward to finding out on Deadspin.)
The Longhorns Network, or University of Texas Network, or whatever they end up calling it, could be a web of conflicts, but it will be a lucrative web. In athletic departments around the country, only one word in that sentence resonates: "lucrative." I get it, and it's not so terrible. Still, I would love to see a Division I university president stand up and say his university is pulling out of the sports business to focus on its education mission.