July 22, 2011

Mac Engel: TCU's Patterson keeps wary eye on Longhorn Network

The TCU football coach wonders where all of this will lead.

Just because Gary Patterson does not work at Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech or some other Big 12 Minus 2 school does not mean he's not watching with great interest what is going on these days between Austin and Bristol, Conn.

The idea that the Longhorn Network is going to affect just the other nine conference schools is absurd, so Patterson watches with a rooting interest. This isn't a fly-over states issue; Bevo TV could potentially affect any big-time coach from Fort Worth to Oxford, Miss., to Syracuse, N.Y., to Pullman, Wash.

"I don't know about the influence of ESPN; does ESPN push a player toward Texas?" Patterson said after he spoke to the Texas Private School Coaches Association on Friday afternoon at Country Day School.

"If it's making money, then it's making money. But if it's players, and all the rest of it..."

He didn't finish this sentence, because we're smart enough to know what "the rest of it" means. As of today, GP stands on the sidelines watching and listening to people like A&M AD Bill Byrne and so many others express concern over the Longhorns and ESPN's desire to air high school games.

This is an awful concept that could open a Pandora's Box of problems.

"If it's not managed right? Yes," GP said. "I don't know if you have an answer for it right now. All of us, you just want an even playing field."

This thing will un-level an already uneven playing field, bring more professionalism at a younger age, increase TV's influence and continue needless spending from college athletic departments.

As much as I trust the NCAA to mess things up, that fraudulent organization and your state high school athletic association should be drafting legislation right now to stop this madness before it really reaches the high school in your neighborhood.

Capitalism relies on growth, and one of the great untapped revenue sources in sports is high school athletics. It already has happened to a degree with AAU ball, and now 7-on-7 football with a select number of televised games, shoe deals and a tiny bit of advertising.

If ESPN gets its way and its relationship with UT includes covering and glorifying the 16-year-old kid who just got his driver's license, take all of the ugly that comes with college sports and apply it to the high school level.

The "ugly" includes overzealous boosters' $1,000 handshakes, the sometimes brazen attitude toward academics, the wholesale sellout to TV, among other things. If you shudder at the idea of a school district cutting a deal with Coke or Pepsi to put in a few vending machines on school property, wait till a TV station calls.

Perhaps this is inevitable, and the commercialization of high school sports and its athletes is coming, simply because there is money to be made.

But to blindly sign off on it will also only accelerate television as the next great arms race in college athletics.

"It's a great idea as far as the Longhorns, but is it equal for everybody?" GP asked. "If they can do it, anybody can do it, right?"

Yes, but not really.

It is one thing for Texas to start its own network; it will be quite another for North Texas to do so. Can't envision the people in Bristol calling the people in Denton aiming to launch Mean Green TV.

But schools are going to be forced to push for their own cable, or Internet, TV channel so they can air softball, kickball, tetherball, soccer and the other games only friends and family will have any desire to watch. On the plus side, it may actually allow the NHL to win a ratings race against another sport.

College athletic departments have raised billions of dollars nationwide in an effort to "increase awareness" and help with recruiting.

Meanwhile, did anyone ever stop to ask, "Do we really need a weight room superior than that of most NFL teams?"

"Any time you have abuse you have restriction," GP said. "What we're going to find out is [Texas] has its own network, and then they will all do it. Then, who governs all of that? When you become bigger than the president of the university, then who governs them? I think then it becomes bigger than the NCAA; then it becomes government."

The way the government is trending, we really don't need that.

Let this issue be addressed with all expediency before yet another layer of foolery and indecisiveness is added.

Follow Mac Engel on Twitter @MacEngelProf.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

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