Chip Brown kicked the media's you-know-what a year ago. Yes, Chip was more or less just sitting comfortably in UT's back pocket, but that's not really the point. You have giants like ESPN and Fox Sports and armies of regional and local reporters with webs of supposed ties and connections all over the country. You couldn't count the number of trained, seasoned, adulated journalists who should have been all over the Pac-16 story last summer. Yet none of them were. It was a complete, total, coast-to-coast whiff. Not a single one of the self-congratulatory press knew anything about Larry Scott's plans until lowly little Chip Brown tweeted it.
How could this be? Even if info was being purposely leaked to Chip, how is it that nobody - NOBODY - had any kind of scoop beforehand?
Answer: Because, much like the mainstream news media, sports journalism doesn't work hard anymore. It doesn't dig, think or innovate. It's too afraid of making enemies, and too full of people who are only on the job because they can get away with watching sports for a living, and have no real passion for true reporting. As a result, the sports media is reactive, unoriginal, and full of politically correct motives. Not every reporter is like that, but the good ones are a shrinking minority.
Now, a year later, we're suddenly inundated once again with stories, articles, columns, and tweets coming from every possible corner about some supposed fault line under the Big 12.
Just one problem. It's all bluster. In fact, the issue was rather undramatically killed off last night with the Big 12's unanimous vote to nix high school games on the Longhorn Network, and work out a nice compromise for letting it show conference games. As soon as the NCAA makes the same official prohibition, the story will be buried for good.
The truth about what happened in the Big 12 in the last month is really pretty simple, and not at all deserving of the drooling attention it got. There are a few facts that nicely put it all in perspective - unfortunately, these are also facts that the media wasn't very concerned about.
First of all, Texas A&M does not want to join the SEC. If they did, they would already be there. There's a myth going around that joining the Southeastern Conference would be some giant coup for College Station.
The reality isn't so optimistic and Texas A&M knows it. Take athletic budgets for example. As of 2009 the Aggies' athletic department revenue was in the upper half of the Big 12, ranking fifth out of 12. However, A&M's revenue that same year was more than $10 million short of the *average* for the SEC, ahead of only Vanderbilt and the Mississippi schools, and not even remotely within reach of Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn, and Alabama. In fact, if the Aggies could magically increase their athletic revenue by $20 million overnight with all the other schools remaining unchanged, they still wouldn't break into the Top 5 of SEC earners (nor would they be close to touching Texas, btw).
And competitively? Take Arkansas, the team that had beaten Texas A&M 10 out of the last 15 times when it left the old Southwest Conference to join the SEC in 1992. In the SEC West, the Razorbacks have had has many losing seasons as 8-plus-win seasons (seven of each). They have made it to the conference championship game three times in 19 years, and have lost each time by an average of 23 points.
So where's the real incentive for the Aggies to join the SEC? There's every evidence that they will be worse off competitively, and just as disadvantaged with their peers money-wise as they are now. Will recruiting get better? Not a chance. Aggieland will lose at least as many blue-chippers as it gains if the rest of the SEC has easy access to Texas.
Again, A&M knows this and that is why they will choose the Big 12 over the SEC every time. Even so, the chatter was everywhere. And, the truth is Texas A&M did have a gripe with Texas. But it was not even close to tearing the Big 12 apart.
All the media attention started with ESPN's big-money launch of the Longhorn Network. But the truth is, that was not a surprise to anybody - least of all Texas A&M. The basic plan of the LHN has been known all over the state of Texas since at least spring of 2010, including the financials. Even BYU knew about it! Inside sources were saying it would be worth upwards of $20 million per year long before it ever became an official news story with ESPN involved. A&M ignored the SEC a year ago and re-committed itself to the new Big 12 fully aware of that.
So why, all of the sudden, were there articles all over the place citing one unnamed source after another "close to" or "inside" Texas A&M?
As you know, when the LHN announced it was going to air local high school games, and also buy out a Big 12 conference game, the Aggies weren't happy. So, they formulated a plan to prevent those things from happening, and started a strategic media campaign to get the wheels turning.
Undoubtedly many of those "sources" were real and accurately quoted. But, they were all coming from the same place - College Station. No one stopped to ask why there was nothing coming from Oklahoma. And why wasn't there more from Missouri, who has historically been about as discrete as a bullhorn? Insiders at these schools will tell you it's because there wasn't much to talk about.
The last thing Missouri is interested in right now is conference shopping after they got burned by the Big 10. And, OU was never seriously interested in the SEC last year, and nothing has happened to change that. The Sooners knew all along that any concerns about the LHN could be handled administratively. Even then, "escaping" from UT would be dead last on the list of recourses they have for their grievances.
As Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione said before:
"I think it would be a horrendous decision for OU and Texas to break up. We're going to stick together if it's at all possible."
So why all the noise from College Station?
Bigger and louder is the Texas way when it comes to just about everything, including politics. A&M actually played a great hand of cards in all of this. They used the strategic media leaks to play up a threat to leave with two simultaneous objectives - alert the state politicians, and pressure administrators to act. Dan Beebe wasted no time taking the bait, and any thought of the Big 12 actually breaking up was quickly put to rest in back-room conversations with the powerful Lone Star office-holders. A&M's posturing also served to speed up the NCAA's reaction.
That leads us to last night when one swift move ended all of it. A&M got exactly what they wanted. So did the rest of the Big 12. Texas really doesn't get hurt one way or the other, and that's that.
Insiders believe that barring some strange interpretations, the LHN will be deemed to fall under articles of NCAA regulations that would prohibit any association or partnerships with high school sports. The league has banned other types of school-related media from doing similar things all along. It just hasn't formally applied it to a situation where a school-sponsored broadcast outlet is involved.
It will take some time for the lawyers to sort through the fine print, but as of right now it appears inevitable that high school sports on a special interest network will be dead before it is ever born. The Big 12 edict will essentially become NCAA law.
Some commentators claim the mere existence of the LHN will still eventually drive the Aggies out, but that is an extremely unrealistic scenario. Texas A&M and Oklahoma are already laying plans for their own competing networks (probably on some regional and/or online platform), and the politics have them all super-glued together anyway. It would take a catastrophic act for the politicans to allow UT and A&M to separate. Likewise, Texas wants to go nowhere without Oklahoma (and vice versa), and the Sooners are going nowhere without Oklahoma State. Throw in Texas Tech and you end up with five pairs of boots firmly stuck in concrete.
But what about Texas going independent?
Just as Texas A&M would already be in the SEC if it were a real possibility, Texas would have declared independence by now if it were that simple. It's unlikely for all the reasons previously discussed, and a few others.
For one, Texas has more to lose from independence than it has to gain.
Here is a sample of information you might find on the desk of a Texas athletic administrator when independence is considered...
Consider that in 2009 Texas generated a 73 percent profit margin on its football revenue (incidentally, that revenue was the highest in the NCAA by more than $20 million). Some have used this as an argument for independence, but it's actually the opposite. Teams like BYU and Notre Dame make sense as independents because their brands are worth more standing alone. But, Texas is dealing with an entirely different culture and vision, and a Texas-centric conference is actually a key cog to maximizing the UT brand value. As a result, the Longhorns are already far and away in the best financial shape of any team in college football, and are not leaving much, if any, money on the table.
In addition, the minor sports at Texas are also hugely successful, and big money-makers. For instance, the latest public numbers showed the Longhorns with the ninth-highest basketball revenue in the country (higher than even Kansas), and Texas baseball has the second-highest revenue in the country and profited $2 million in one season. For some perspective, 2009 Texas baseball made a million dollars more revenue than BYU *basketball* in the same time period.
The fact is Texas has every incentive to maintain the status quo and especially to protect its minor sports. It benefits hugely from a strong Big 12 - even to the point where the Longhorns might actually be better off rebuilding the conference even if a couple of teams ever left.
The Big 12 isn't falling apart. The SEC is not expanding. Texas has no plans to go independent.
Any journalist doing his/her job would have known this, and would have reported it as such all along. But, they got embarrassed a year ago by a tweet, and that still stings. So they overreacted this time to make sure they didn't miss out on a blockbuster story again. But, in reality they just did the same dance to a different tune. Nobody did any bold digging through information and sources to get to the bottom of this. They sat around waiting for A&M's "sources" to give them the planned leaks, and then copied and pasted the rest.
Last summer it took a twitter campaign for Chip Brown to embarrass the media. This summer, he didn't even have to do that.