Could Texas Declare Its Independence From All Conferences?

Jeb WilliamsonCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07: The Texas Longhorns flag outside the stadium prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Citi BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The argument for the University of Texas dropping the Big 12 in favor of either the Big 10 or Pac 10 loses more of its flavor each time it gets cooked. Of all the reasons originally given, a gain of approximately $11 million dollars is really the only one left standing.

If that amount of extra cash is enough to give the university something to think about, how long before someone down in Austin starts checking into the monies gained by Texas forsaking all conferences and becoming an independent program?

The only thing better than a really good revenue sharing program is not having to share at all.

Officially, Texas is not interested in leaving the Big 12. That said, what keeps one of the school’s many prominent boosters or alumni from unofficially acting on its behalf? If the school—even surreptitiously—is considering a breakup, would it not make sense for the school to consider going it alone?

The Pros

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A Lone Star Shines Brightest

Austin is not just one of the coolest cities on the planet, it is centrally located near three of the larger television markets in the country: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. When combined with Austin’s own market, the group represents over 5 percent of all television households.

Only the New York City market is bigger.

The university’s development of its own sporting network is grounded in the access to those markets. Having the rights to broadcast games—and the revenues involved in doing so, with primary ownership of advertising and sponsorship streams—could yield a boon to the program.

I say could because, as those who study such things know, the size of the pie for television money in college football does not change that much, just the size of the slices.

Even with that qualifier, the fact that the Longhorns would be sharing the revenue with only the team they are playing, and not the conference they belong to, would produce a higher margin of return on an investment they are already making.

As Texas is the star power—sorry OU Fans—in any packaging deals the Big 12 makes with networks and distributors currently, there is little fear that similar partnerships cannot be reached by the Longhorns’ themselves. 

In fact, cable distributors like Time Warner and Comcast benefit from actually paying a premium for the rights to the broadcast in their being unburdened by obligations to carry other teams.

Let’s give a collective Yahoo! for never having to watch Iowa State versus Baylor on Saturday night again.

Even when it has had down years—the David McWilliams Era comes to mind—the University of Texas has always been the premier program in a state where coaches are deified or burned every day of the calendar.

That history and cultural relevance makes UT one of the few schools that could actually pull an idea like this off.

The Fan Base is Growing

You do not have to have a doctorate in demographics to realize that dynamic changes to the national population are taking place.

Documenting immigration studies has become a moot point in modern society. The discussion concerning the issue has reached a level of national consciousness; it fills our political spectrum on topics from housing to health care.

This year’s national census will tell us little that our eyes have not already witnessed; the Hispanic community is growing, and doing so faster than any other group of people.

Politicians, media execs and academics are but a few of those trying to discern what effect such a large population migration has on a host country. As sports fans, our concerns are less fiery, and seldom extend beyond the teams that anyone—including immigrants—choose to cheer for.

But know you this: tapping into the economic power of the growing Hispanic community is something that every school in the country is trying to figure out. Why would they not? Every business from appliances to soft drinks is doing the same.

The pursuit for those dollars and the impact they will have is one of the great questions for this century. It will change many things in our lives and it will change college football, too.

Look at how the Dallas Cowboys have marketed themselves throughout Central America, and start thinking the same thing for the college game.

Fresno State head coach Pat Hill has openly theorized about his program becoming to the Hispanic population what Notre Dame is to Catholics. He went so far as to pine about the possibility of striking a television deal with Telemundo or Univision to carry games south of the border.

If it makes sense to him, would it not make a lot more for the Longhorns?

Imagine the slogan—The University of Texas Longhorns: Mexico’s Team.

Better Football

A move to Independence would not jeopardize the loss of rivalries like a move to another conference would.

Texas would need to play a tougher schedule than it currently does in order to make BCS bowls.  I do assume that such a move would come with the same kind of deal that the BCS struck with Notre Dame.

It would need the Red River against Oklahoma. It would need the game against Texas A&M too. What it would not need and could not have is three or four games against directional schools or lower tier programs. Texas would need to play a better schedule against more national programs to get into the big bowl picture.

The Longhorns could still play regionally as they do now in conference. A Texas-TCU matchup at Jerry World would be a huge draw. SMU and Houston could be added so in-state games do not feel like a rehash of former conference ones.

Texas has a deal in place to play Ole Miss down the road, so stepping into the SEC is not a new idea. What about a home-and-home series with LSU? Think people would watch that?

The risk is the same one Notre Dame took and is now suffering from—in order to be invited to the big parties you have to beat enough good teams. If you are not very good, your schedule will prove it.

The Cons (The first one is the only one needed)

Even in Texas, They Play Sports Other than Football

Ultimately, even with the benefits to the football program, what keeps Texas in a conference are the sports not currently coached by Mack Brown.

The basketball, baseball, golf, swimming, etc. teams need conference affiliation in order to succeed. Most of them have a playoff system that relies on conference championships to produce national champions. There are exemptions, but not many.

Conferences are an easy way to design play for universities. They keep budgets stable and allow athletes time to develop both on the field and in the classroom. The consistency of conference scheduling serves a systemic function for sports programs by allowing coaches to plan things like training programs and recruiting schedules.

Conferences promote rivalries at multiple times during the year, generating interest and revenue opportunities for alumni and fans.

Opportunities for the greatest number of students to compete for their school come from playing sports other than football. Schools with conference affiliations have more sports to play; that is well documented. Also well documented is the fact that Independents rarely succeed in more than one or two sports.

For that reason alone—giving more kids more opportunities to succeed—the Longhorns will stay in a conference.

Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report.  He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his other articles.


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