The silence from the UT administration regarding conference realignment is deafening. Every conference imaginable has been posited by fans and opponents as a potential landing ground for our beloved Longhorns. Let's move to the PAC-16! No, the ACC! No, we'll rebuild the Big 12.
Has A&M finally stuck it to us? Has OU's sudden initiative caught UT off guard? Has UT "gotten got"?
Feeling comfortable for years that Dodds has been managing the national realignment scene, developing contingencies for contingencies, UT fans have assumed that we have the drivers seat. To our surpise, we now find ourselves waiting for news of A&M, OU, OSU, TT and anything else that will feed us something to assuage our realignment hunger.
Up until now I've considered the prospect of Texas Independence as a pipe dream. We know the administration has considered it, but in my fan heart I was too attached to our conference rivals to consider it viable. However, today I find myself warming to the idea, and I'll attempt to explain to you why.
For Texas, it is looking more and more like the Longhorns' most likely long-term option is independence, at least in football. The Texas brand is strong enough, and the pockets deep enough, that it could survive quite comfortably as an independent, while still retaining the autonomy to run (and independently profit from) its own television station, and customize its schedule to keep rivalries intact. Texas has insisted, at least so far, that it does not want independence, but my guess is that privately Texas is much more open to the idea than they've yet let on. Notre Dame is still going strong as an independent (financially, anyway), and there is plenty of reason to believe that Texas would have better competitive success than Notre Dame as an independent, with its superior recruiting reach, and without Notre Dame's tough admission standards.
Digging deep into my UT fan pride and arrogance, I will explain why UT as an independent is viable, why there is silence from Belmont on the subject, and how the current conference rumors might make sense in light of UT independence.
Let's talk about money. It's our favorite subject and the driving factor in conference realignment. The internet bloviators have explained to us that Texas has been "greedy' in not sharing their money with conference partners, and subsequently has driven away Nebraska, Colorado, A&M, and now OU and OSU.
We all understand that Dodds has a responsibility to put the UT bottom line first, and so understand the LHN. The LHN is a billion dollar investment in UT's third tier rights. Contrary to a lot of internet fan opinion, I think ESPN plans to make money on the network and is not just using it as a tool to affect the college football landscape.
Should the Big 12 dissolve and UT go independent, what becomes of the LHN?
The seemingly obvious choice for Texas is to go independent. Texas can control its own destiny. The last time numbers were released, Texas took home $11.8 million for the 2008-2009 school year in conference distributions. Texas’ share of LHN revenue for the 2011-2012 school year will be $10.9 million, increasing by 3% each year thereafter.
According to these figures, UT's third tier rights via the LHN are impressive, challenging the value our first and second tier rights bring us through the Big 12 conference. Once ESPN makes back its investment into the LHN, UT keeps 70% of revenue. How could Dodds not consider handing over all television rights to ESPN and letting them monetize them. ESPN would have no problem getting the LHN onto basic cable in Dallas and Houston if it was the exclusive home of the Longhorns. Time Warner Cable and Direct TV would not be able to hold out any longer, folding to fees close to $1 per subscriber in two of the top ten T.V. markets in the U.S.
Such a partnership would be revolutionary in college sports, rivaled only by the NBC / Notre Dame deal of old. It has been widely rumored that UT has been in contact with Notre Dame, the assumption being that some incarnation of "Domer Law" was being worked with UT pulling Notre Dame into a conference. However an equally likely possibility is that UT was consulting with Notre Dame on the merits of leaving a conference. Scheduling difficulties, profits, fanbase impact and more. Notre Dame is the leading expert on football independence and it would be foolish to venture independence without getting their input first.
The windfall from ESPN with the LHN may even force Dodds and UT to seek independence. The potential earnings are much to turn down, and Notre Dame has convinced UT that independence is viable. How do we move forward? Well first, we can't burn any bridges with our conference mates. We will need to find them homes in other conferences, as we will want reoccurring OOC games from them for the foreseeable future.
Let's find homes for A&M, OU, OSU, and TT. These schools can stay on our schedule, they move to more profitable conferences, and it's a win-win for both sides. Having these schools make their move first, before we announce any intentions of independence is safe. It protects the reputations of our friends, decreases realignment pressure, and may even shield us from some legal exposure if we are the last to declare our intentions.
Let's add Notre Dame and BYU to our schedule. As other independents, they're our natural allies.
Should we decide to reignite the Arkansas rivalry, we would be free to pursue that as independents. All in all, we might be able to build a stronger "conference" schedule of reoccurring games that appeal to our fanbase than we can in any of the regional conferences.
We also have to find a landing place for our other athletics, following the Notre Dame model. This is where I find the ACC rumor more viable. If the Big 12 dissolves, we could land our basketball team in the ACC, being a secure spot for our other profitable sport. The ACC would accept the terms of the LHN and allow us to stay aligned with ESPN.
Picture ESPN, the leader in college sports, as a full time partner with the University of Texas. Already the LHN has caused an uproar regarding conflict of interest, so Belmont and ESPN will tread carefully moving forward. But make no mistake, they may just be moving forward.
As the realignment shakes down, and our conference mates leave us to our "fate". After all, who was the most fervent supporter of the Big 12 if not Texas? Once it dissolves due to the dissatisfaction of our friends, we will... reluctantly... assume the role of ESPN's own Texas Longhorns and don the mantle of football independence.
In the conference realignment game... Texas stays quiet, slowly stirring the coals.