According to a Matt Hayes Sporting News story, Texas A&M and Oklahoma are serious about leaving for the SEC if some of their concerns about the soon-to-launch Longhorn Network persist:
"A source told Sporting News on Wednesday that both Texas A&M and Oklahoma are so concerned about rival Texas gaining a recruiting advantage with the newly formed Longhorn Network, the two institutions could turn to the SEC if the problems can't be figured out. The core issue: The Longhorn Network will televise live high school football games in the state of Texas, an obvious recruiting advantage for Texas."
There are two important points to make about this story: First, this is a nuclear option threat, not an actual work-in-progress. Second, it's a very smart counter-move by whoever is behind it -- A&M, Oklahoma, or both.
On the first point, it remains the case that -- whatever the fantasies of many A&M fans -- both Texas A&M and Oklahoma are (at least in the short-term) in much too solid a position with the Big 12-2 to have suddenly made an about-face and arrived at the decision that it's in their best interests to move to the SEC. They knew that Texas was going to launch its own network when they signed on to the Big 12-2, and absolutely nothing fundamental has changed since the conference realignment brouhaha last summer. Setting aside the Aggies' posturing, there were sound reasons that Oklahoma stood firmly by Texas's side during the conference realignment drama, and nothing has happened since then altering those fundamental reasons.
The one and only thing that has changed has been the recent discussion that Texas might carry live high school football games. And particularly disconcerting if you're a fan of A&M or Oklahoma have been the recent remarks by Dave Brown, ESPN Vice President for Programming, in which he excitedly yammered about delivering live high school football games involving recruits of particular interest to Texas, such as Jonathan Gray and Connor Brewer. That was a mistake, both because if enacted it would (fairly) be perceived as an enormous recruiting advantage for Texas, and even if televising Texas recruits was never the plan the remarks fueled the perception that the Longhorn Network is going to be a source of enormous, unacceptable advantage for UT.
That brings us to the second point: floating this threat was a strong, well-played move. To begin with, it was particularly smart to feed the threat to Hayes during SEC media days, a veritable media frenzy attended by virtually everyone with meaningful college football coverage. Even if Texas A&M and Oklahoma have no intention of going anywhere, the story will get huge play for the next several days in Birmingham.
The upshot is that it's now a hot story, and now that it's a hot story, Texas A&M and Oklahoma don't have to be the ones pointing at the LHN's plans to cover high school games while hoping for the best. Now the media will do that work for them, spotlighting the issue and putting the heat on Deloss Dodds to account for the plans. Texas was still feeling its way through this possibility; they won't have that luxury any more. Without a firm grasp on how they want to broadcast high school football (if at all), Dodds and Texas have no choice but to back off the idea -- either completely, or at least for the time being. The odds of the LHN broadcasting high school football games this fall probably just went from fair to zero.
Finally, and perhaps the most important aspect of this story in terms of what's ahead, this was a smart play because -- whether they collaborated or not -- this threat uses Oklahoma and Texas A&M as a tandem to amplify leverage. It will be interesting to see what Texas's two main rivals take from this going forward, and if they figure out how to continue using that advantage to further their own interests as well as Texas has used its own advantages to further its own. That levels the playing field significantly, forcing Texas to be a good bit more deferential and cooperative than it otherwise would have to be if it were assured to remain coupled with Oklahoma.
Given how last season's realignment negotiations played out, I can't help but think that that has not changed, but it is absolutely wise for Oklahoma and/or A&M to strategically plant some seeds of doubt. On that count, today's threat is the best counter-move to Texas by A&M and Oklahoma that we've seen to date. At least as a short-term play, it brings us to the table as more interested collaborators. What all this says about the long-term viability of the conference is another thing, but score this one for Texas's rivals for now, and don't expect to see any high school football on LHN this fall.