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Longhorns’ Plight May Lie in Their Network

And the panic erupting in Arlington is only topped by the one exploding 180 miles south in Austin.

After the Texas Longhorns lost to BYU last Saturday, giving up more than 500 rushing yard sin the process (refresh my football stupidity; that’s bad, right?), heads rolled pretty quickly.  Arnie Spanier, who may no longer be on the air in DFW but still has an obsession with Texas sports, not only proudly trumpeted his correct prediction on the game but also the aftermath, as it was announced defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Now according to Arnie and his sources, the anger has not yet been quelled. Supposedly the biggest boosters for UT have issued an ultimatum to Mack Brown: Beat Oklahoma AND go to a BCS bowl game this year or step down. And the Longhorns will gladly go back to enduring the David McWilliams’ and John Mackovics of the world. Or they’ll just unload three Bronks trucks on Nick Saban’s door to bring him to their school with a contract that should cause some people to permanently lose their faith in college sports. (Let me get this out of the way: NO MAN is worth paying 10 million a year to win in ANY athletic program at a supposed institute of higher learning).

Clearly the Texas Exes will do anything to get their beloved football back on top. But they might not be seeing the bigger issue going on at the Forty Acres.

The entire Texas athletics department is in a tailspin. The football team actually wasn’t that bad last year compared to their brethren, as they at least made a bowl game. The basketball and baseball teams failed to make the NCAAs completely.

Some continue to say this is just a rough patch that just happens to be coming for so many programs all at once. But rarely is something like this just coincidental. There is usually a common link.

And in this case, it just might be that big ol’ TV network that got so many up in arms.

The university launched the Longhorn Network in April 2011 intending it to be the ultimate money printing source for what already may be the most luxurious, gluttonous athletics department in the nation. (I still roll my eyes when I see the mini-Metrodome they use for a football practice facility.) It was also looked upon as a wholly unfair recruiting tool by some, especially with the network announcing it would air high school games. That’s the big reason why Texas A&M is facing Alabama this Saturday and another Longhorns-Aggies matchup looks like it may never happen again.

But after two years so far, clearly the network hasn’t been that much of broadcast pied piper luring in every great athlete to come wear burnt orange. Which leads to the question: Could the Longhorn Network actually be repelling prospective student-athletes?

There may be one obvious explanation for this: The Longhorn Network hasn’t been a big player because, well, no one has been carrying it. Turns out the university greatly over estimated its value as being a must-see college athletic department for a national audience. Since its inception, the network has managed to coax the major cable providers at a rate of one a year with Fios, AT&T U-Verse and, most recently, Time Warner Cable. Comcast and the two big satellite providers continue to refuse.

Representatives from DirecTV may have summed it up best: “We understand Longhorn has other programming that may be of value to a small segment of our customers, but two UT football games do not constitute a network.”

If the games it carries aren’t going to be seen by anyone, what’s the point? At the rate it’s going, the network will hopefully be big enough to be a lure by maybe 2020.

Johnny Manziel soap opera, the debate of how much college athletes are supposedly being used as indentured servants is up in full force once again. And therein might just lie the big issue with the Longhorn Network. It may be the final straw for a growing number of athletes getting disenfranchised with how these schools will profiteer off them.

Now, I still remain among those old schoolers who believe college athletes should not be paid for play. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see and understand the frustration said athletes can have when the schools go too far in trying to make money off them with little compensation outside of a scholarship. And with a school creating its own cable network – that’s about as far as you can get.

That’s not to say the Alabamas and the Oklahomas of the country aren’t equally as guilty of the bottom line of profiteering. But UT may have finally found the line to cross – and the athletes are seeing they crossed it and responded with, “no thanks.”

Think I may be getting ludicrous in such a theory? Maybe we should travel to Greece and ask Ioannis Papapetrou, who signed to play pro ball there after last season. Yes, playing professionally in a country on the verge of bankruptcy was more enticing than returning to UT. And he wash’t the only one to leave, as Rick Barnes has recently seen seven other players either turn pro or transfer.

Either way you look at it, many more are taking a hit all at once in Austin, not just those wearing pads and helmets. Suddenly kids aren’t interested in hearing “The Eyes of Texas” over and over again. Not when they see a school trying to collect hundreds of millions off their efforts with a TV network that won’t even be watched by those with a satellite dish mounted on their roofs.

And if that’s the case, it may take a lot more than replacing Mack to get at least Texas football back to national prominence. In fact, UT might want to take a step back from all the money that spend – and consider less might be more in making them more attractive to college athletes.


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