|Texas has multiple options at this point, but it ultimately stands to lose power and influence. (Getty Images)|
At least Texas A&M has good reason to leave the Big 12.
A radio interview. Just another few minutes on just another of those blah-blah-blah sports talk stations in Austin. Had something to do with high school football.
In early June, ESPN's Dave Brown gave vision and clarity to what the Longhorn Network would be. Eighteen high school games a year, he said. Road trips to televise the games of Texas commits, he said. More, bigger, better. A perfect match for the two largest entities in college sports.
One problem, that vision and clarity may have been just enough to push A&M to the SEC on Wednesday. If you don't get that the first sentence of this column is coated with sarcasm you haven't been following the process. Assuming Texas A&M's conditional invitation to the SEC goes through, the Big 12 now stands at nine teams and shrinking. Oklahoma has to make a decision on pursuing the Pac-12.
Baylor is left in a position of throwing a legal Hail Mary to keep it out of Conference USA (or something similar). Texas may have overplayed its hand in pushing the LHN on its conference brethren and college athletics as a whole.
If you don't agree, consider Texas' options at this point: It can stay and try to resuscitate a diminished Big 12, it can go to the Pac-12 (where it will have to change or drop its lucrative LHN deal) or go independent. In all three scenarios, Texas loses some of the power and influence it enjoys today.
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All because of a debate over high school games? I've always believed there is something slimy to begin with making money off the labors of kids who aren't able to vote yet. But child stars began growing up to be chemically dependent a while ago. We're numb to the issue. Besides, someone somewhere is paying good money to see it. We're watching it.
Brown isn't a bad guy. In fact, he has made millions of dollars for dozens of schools. He's the most influential matchmaker in the business when it comes to arranging games. Oregon-LSU last Saturday in Arlington? That was his. Those great regular-season basketball games? A lot of those are his.
But every controversy needs a narrative. A&M's began with Brown's comments on KZNX. As head of the LHN, his statements carried weight and portended a fundamental shift. Not only was Texas going to have its own network, the airwaves were going to be a launching pad for Texas recruiting.
That was a deal-breaker for A&M even after the NCAA eventually shot down the televising of high school games. That suggests the Aggies were gone anyway, that the rancor over the LHN was a red herring, that Brown's comments were an excuse. Whatever the case, A&M realized it had leverage, options. The SEC will expand to 13 teams for now and perhaps for an extended time.
Now the strange part: The SEC was more than happy with 12 teams and a lucrative TV deal. The Pac-12 presidents actually prefer their conference not to expand but when Oklahoma, and perhaps Texas, come calling you don't turn them down.
The result? A likely reshuffling of superpowers, if not the formation of superconferences themselves. On that second point the commissioners can't seem to help themselves. The SEC's Mike Slive negotiated a record media rights contract two years ago. Now, the previously somnambulant Pac-12 may have passed the Strength Everywhere Conference in revenue. The Big Ten's Jim Delany seems to be waiting quietly for just enough upheaval to force Notre Dame into his league.
ESPN types will tell you that Texas A&M went into this LHN thing with eyes wide open. A&M will tell you that Brown's comments were the tipping point. Someone has to own it, don't they? Wednesday came and went with a silly stream of statements from the SEC, Baylor and Texas A&M.
I would like to officially release a statement saying I'm sick of the release of statements. Whatever, this certainly isn't a mutual breakup. Up until a few months ago A&M was one of the solid 10 in the Big 12. Like Nebraska's move to the Big Ten last year, this decision was made in anger. The Aggies pouted.
It's fair to say the departure was caused by emotional distress. A&M hates Texas and everything it represents. Oklahoma now senses instability. That's not something you can put in a statement or quantify with dollars.
Ask A&M president R. Bowen Loftin. Ask AD Bill Byrne. They were part of the administration pushing the NCAA for an interpretation on the televising of live high school games. The NCAA eventually ruled against the LHN but the damage had been done. The world will have to accept that the LHN will do high school football highlights of in-state schools. Recruiting, says a network official, will not be mentioned.
If not Brown's comments, then it most likely would have been something else. Brown, the LHN's vice president for programming and acquisitions, just put a voice to Texas flexing its considerable muscle once again. At least that was the perception, and in these sensitive times that was enough.
So A&M left and the Big 12 stands at the brink of collapse because adults argued over high school games. The interview was a symptom. The diagnosis had been made. A&M had it with Texas a long time ago.
Everybody happy? Not even close.