By Michael Felder
We're just over a month away from the Longhorn Network making its official debut as a property of ESPN. The initial broadcast schedule is laid out. The studio and on-air personalities are prepped. All they're waiting on is for the lights, camera, action moment to get this thing off the ground. They're going to be showing Texas football, other Big XII football games, Olympic sports and most important; high school football games on the channel.
Now originally as the network came to fruition and our content knowledge was limited I wasn't sold on this having a tremendous impact on the recruiting of the Longhorns. Not because television doesn't matter but more because, as we've discussed before, I have seen how Texas currently recruits and didn't see a lot of room for growth within their borders when it came to snagging kids. However, a recent interview with ESPN Programming Vice President Dave Brown has swayed things a bit in outlining the Longhorn Network's approach. Sure, we all expected some big time Texas football to be on the network, issue is those kids already are well aware of the Texas. They have already been "baptized" in the Burnt Orange through a lifetime of Texas exposure that the network only heightens, not creates.
The issue is the latter part of Browns' quote:
“One other thing, you may see us, I know there’s a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene in Austin.“
That's right. Unsigned kids from out of state are now game to be broadcast on the network. Sure Brewer is a commit but we're still six months before he inks a National Letter of Intent and five months before the kid can enroll early to join the squad if he so chooses. The "upper management" and in this case the ESPN power brokers have already decided that targeting commits and/or elite high school talent from out of state to put on the Longhorn Network is a great idea for content.
So what do you take from that comment? Read more to see what other folks are saying and get the ITB take on the Longhorn Network...
As you can imagine some folks are pissed. Shaun Al-Shatti wrote the most clear and succinct piece on it over at SBNation and he's pretty blunt about what bothers most folks; a clear recruiting advantage. The Sporting News goes a step further, focusing on Texas A&M and their positionas the Longhorn Network is just a month away from being broadcast all over the Lonestar State.
When I first read it I was pissed too. I didn't understand how it was ok for the Longhorn Network to put Texas targets on the air from an NCAA and publicity standpoint. But there's a loophole; ESPN has to schedule the games, the Texas folks cannot. How that's monitored remains to be seen. Does that mean ESPN has to extend the desire but Texas can suggest players or schools? Does that mean ESPN and Texas can't work in concert to target and schedule games with ESPN just acting as a mouthpiece? Or, does that mean ESPN just has to pick games themselves and use recruiting rankings to "guess" at who Texas might want on the air?
How the NCAA defines this is going to be interesting but in the meantime, how upset should random fan of a non-Texas program be?
If you're a Big XII fan (that's not aTm or Oklahoma) not very. You guys signed up for this a year ago when you kowtowed to the Longhorns and basically paid them not to leave you out in the cold. Sucks, sure but you knew they were in a different stratosphere already didn't you? That's why you forfeited your portion of the $20 million dollar Colorado and Nebraska buyout to keep them.
Oklahoma and aTm folks? Yeah I'm pissed and I'm watching them closely. Obviously we've all grown weary of the repeated "Texas A&M wants to join the SEC" storyline that just won't seem to go away and this only serves to give that more steam. Oklahoma is still going to work Dallas as hard as they can for kids and while there is grumbling and outrage from the OU fans the fact is they trust Bob Stoops to continue doing what he's doing, winning Big XII Championships.
As for the non-Big XII schools? LSU and Arkansas are the most bothered by this as we've said before. They get talent from Texas and this serves to affect their pipelines into the Lonestar State in an adverse fashion.
Other than that, the complaining is wildy premature. Other than folks who will be instantly and immediately impacted just by the advent of the network the rest of us can take a wait and see approach. Don't get so mad yet, this Longhorn Network thing is going to be a living organism that changes and stretches its legs as it goes forward. That means the NCAA is going to be actively involved (Yay!) in policing this new venture and we'll have to watch how its existence works starts to shape the landscape. Non-revenues are going to be the most significantly impacted sports by all of this and I think if you're in that area watching how Texas swimming, softball and the like benefit is going to be interesting.
As for football, I'm still not sold on how tremendous the impact is going to be. Texas doesn't have that much room to grow to be honest. They're already working on their 5th Top 5 recruiting class in 6 seasons. What more do you expect out of them? To commit more than 13 kids to the incoming class before March? To have more than 18 commits in the middle of summer like they do now?
The point is I don't see a lot of room for the Longhorns to improve from a recruiting standpoint. They can still only ink 25 kids a year right? They already dominate the in-state recruiting scene right?
There is only one avenue where the Longhorns have room for growth and that is out of state. Before I get my panties in a bunch I'm going to wait and see what happens on that front. Given their success and the model Mack Brown has laid out I'm skeptical that they alter their recruiting strategy to reach far beyond Texas' borders on kids that aren't as sure things for the burnt orange.
Update 12:40- After looking into it a bit further I've got a number for you; 7. Seven. As in seven kids from the 2006-2011 signing classes that are not from the state of Texas. In those five years they inked kids from South Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio, Louisiana and 3 from neighboring state Oklahoma. That's dominance within that state, without a network. Those classes, according to scout.com finished 3rd, 3rd, 16th (2008 when they signed just 20 kids), 7th, 3rd and 3rd from '06-'11 respectively.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.