The Big Mac Blog

They feared the Longhorn Network, but for the wrong reasons

Texas Longhorns football coach Tom Herman lost his debut last week against Maryland.
Texas Longhorns football coach Tom Herman lost his debut last week against Maryland. AP

The Texas Football Panic of 2011 turned out to be a giant waste of teenage angst.

All of the worry and frustration directed at ESPN, then-Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and all of UT was warranted, but the impact of the Longhorn Network on the Big 12 standings has been nonexistent.

UT has another new football coach, who this week was ripped by his former boss, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, after Tom Herman appeared (did?) to blame his players for their season-opening loss to Maryland at DKR.

The creation of LHN derailed a conference, acted as another drag on a cable network, gave UT even more money than it already had and, in the end, failed to create the imbalance as feared. Likely because no one is watching it.

Granted, a 20-year, $295 million guaranteed contract is hard to pass, even if it means the effective dissolution of your league. How UT has managed to blow the advantage as the only Division I university with its own 24-hour TV channel dedicated to its own athletic department is one of the most impressive feats in college athletics.

They blew it because no one is watching it. They blew it because the content is too niche and not compelling enough. They blew it because you can show Vince Young running into the end zone of the Rose Bowl against USC only so many times.

The Longhorn Network was launched on Aug. 26, 2011, and since then ...

Texas football in the Big 12:

2011: 8-5, 4-5, sixth

2012: 9-4, 5-4, third

2013: 8-5, 7-2, tied for second (Mack Brown removed after this season; replaced by Charlie Strong)

2014: 6-7, 5-4, tied for fourth

2015: 5-7, 4-5, tied for fifth

2016: 5-7, 3-6, sixth. MUST be noted UT lost to Kansas. (Charlie Strong replaced by Tom Herman)

2017: 0-1

Let’s move on to football recruiting, which was one of the biggest areas of concern for Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, etc. I think recruiting rankings are mostly fun trash, but ... according to Rivals, here is how UT has ranked nationally in recruiting since the spring of 2012.

2012: Second

2013. 24th

2014: 20th

2015: 12th

2016: 11th

2017: 31st

UT men’s basketball program ....

The Horns fired head coach Rick Barnes after the 2014-15 season and replaced him with Shaka Smart. Since the creation of the LHN, the team has made the NCAA tournament in four of six seasons. They reached the Sweet 16 in 2013. They have not won a Big 12 title, because ... well, Kansas only wins those.

Texas baseball program ...

Once one of the premier brand names in the sport, the Longhorns have been surpassed nationally and in the state. Since the launch of the LHN, the baseball team has once finished last in the conference standings (2013). Its highest finish? third in 2012.

Texas softball ...

One of the primary reasons Dodds was excited about the LHN was the potential increased exposure for Texas’ non-revenue sports, such as women’s soccer, softball, etc. The highest the softball team has finished in the Big 12 rankings since the fall of 2011 was second in 2013. It was fourth last season.

The others remain too niche to cause worry.

Overall ...

Granted, since the LHN was created, a few things have happened that the decision-makers at ESPN could not have envisioned. The same for those who were in the Big 12 at the time.

No one then could have seen that in 2017 audiences would have so many alternatives to watch (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.) and that our phones would become a primary platform to view the world, including a ballgame.

ESPN was in a massive expansion phase, spending large amounts of cash to acquire rights to everything but Aussie rules kickball. Cord-cutting was not a thing in 2011.

The network spent a small fortune to build studios in Austin with staffers who would give it the high-priced, ESPN look. The content may not be your thing, but the production value of the LHN is quality.

Since 2011, we’ve since learned that ESPN overspent to acquire all of these games, and the brand that was once the most profitable network in TV is experiencing the inevitable downturn all big companies eventually endure.

We also know that in 2017 the Big 12 suffers as the only major Power 5 conference without its cable channel. The Big 12 remains wildly profitable, but with a vulnerable future because of its top-heavy nature. It’s Texas and Oklahoma with TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and the rest praying these two rivals remain partners.

With DeLoss Dodds and friends running the Big 12, the LHN was formed and the conference came apart. All of the bigger rivals fled, thus creating a more powerful version of The Mountain West.

Tom Osborn took Nebraska to the Big Ten, where the Cornhuskers have become irrelevant. Colorado went to the Pac-12, where its status there is similar to that of the Big 12.

Texas A&M and Missouri went to the SEC and, while both initially enjoyed some success in football, each school has struggled to move up the relevancy chain in that long-established Southeastern league.

The net effect of the Longhorn Network was nearly catastrophic on a league and its future, but negligible on the standings.

The LHN was an ambitious, yet poor, business decision, because, well .. it always was. One school is not enough, not even one as big as Texas.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof