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Almost eleven years ago to the day, I wrote this piece about conference expansion and the role Texas was playing in the process. The column was published for a now-defunct SEC paysite called SEC Rage as part of a summer internship. I was still in college; still learning how to write. But what’s funny is how much the college football landscape has changed in the decade plus since expansion became a hot topic. The national position of Texas, especially, has changed significantly over the years. My memory is a little foggy (college, after all), but I think multiple conferences were making a play for Texas at the time–including the PAC 10 and Big 10. The Longhorns were the belle of the ball back then. As we all know, Texas ended up staying put, but major conference realignment happened in the years soon afterwards. The SEC formally added Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012, which hadn’t happened since 1990. Now, in 2021, Texas and Oklahoma have expressed interest in joining the SEC, as well. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
June 19, 2010
For the last several months, the University of Texas athletic department has strung along an entire nation of devoted college football fans. What apparently looked like a royal coup by the Big Ten now seems like one of the greatest misdirection plays of all time. UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds and his department have postured the university into the most sought-after and lucrative position in college sports. Sounds like one of the most business savvy plays in recent history, but at what cost? Texas has officially become self-aware and will gladly forego years of storied tradition for a chance at BCS financial domination.
Conspiracy theories abound, but the way Dodds and his team controlled the media suggests that UT saw the expansion crisis as a financial opportunity more than anything else. Chip Brown, a contributor to the Texas fan site Orangebloods.com, consistently broke nearly every major decision made by the university before better-connected sources like ESPN or Sports Illustrated. Perhaps Brown has the investigative skills of Bob Woodward, or maybe he had a source deep within the Texas athletic department feeding him exclusive information. Brown gets exclusive rights to the summer’s hottest sports story and the university tightly controls information, thereby in effect causing mass panic and increased prices. Although not illegal, such theoretical posturing surely sounds deceitful. Commodities brokers cannot pick and choose information to feed the public about the summer orange crop, just to drive up the price of frozen orange juice. They must report any and all information that may affect decision-making and hope that consumers buy their juice because it is delicious, not endangered.
But let’s be honest, business entities use media rumor to their advantage daily. Every time John Calipari is rumored to be a candidate for an NBA coaching position, Kentucky Wildcat nation reaches for its wallet and feels even more protective of their beloved (winning) coach. During political campaigns, politicians pander to the media for a few short months, until their value surpasses the reach of an unflattering story or two. Manipulation is simply part of the job description for many journalists who will stop at nothing to find their voice.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming, especially when the PAC-10 became a major player. A Pacific coast conference that stretched all the way across the Rio Grande would have been a logistical nightmare for all schools. Yes, annual Longhorns vs. Trojans match ups would have been riveting, but how would the nationally recognized Texas swimming team have traveled for a meet with Oregon on a Tuesday evening? The Texas athletic budget could handle the inevitable inclusion of all-sports airline packages, but how many other teams could? As we all know, Oklahoma folded like a wet napkin at the first inkling of conference change, despite having seven AP National Championships and more first-place AP and BCS rankings in the modern era than any other college team. (Author’s note: LOL, Bama was coming). Texas knew that their own interests were better served outside of the PAC-10; the Longhorns now effectively own their Red River Rivals, and their position as Godfather of the Big XII remains firmly intact. Dodds’ athletic department can sit back and relax, count its cash from a restructured Gators-esque TV deal, and wait confidently for the next round of expansion discussion.
Texas may be ruling with an iron fist, but the award for biggest footballs goes to Texas A&M. Throughout the early stages of expansion talk, when Texas was just establishing a willingness to listen to offers, the Longhorns held onto A&M like a little brother. Texas displayed a willingness to buy into the frenzy, but only if the Aggies were included in the discussion. A nice public gesture, certainly, to show any expansion naysayers that the ‘horns do care about tradition, rivalry, and the great state of Texas. But A&M thought otherwise, publicly establishing themselves as a sovereign entity whose future was not necessarily tied to UT’s. Did the Aggies bite the hand that feeds them by taking sides against the family, or was their powerplay actually Texas’ ace in the hole? In other words, a way to graciously decline the PAC-10 offer because little brother is being difficult?
It’s tough to say, but we do know that Texas received the price increase that they coveted and that the Big XII, less Colorado and Utah, survives another day. Texas effectively sold their soul for a chance at the treasury title, surely creating a whole new breed of enemy in their own backyard. Every conference game for Texas this year will be a rivalry game in the eyes of the schools that almost got kicked to the curb. But then again, any good dictator knows it’s better to be feared than loved.
Wild stuff, right? “Little brother” Texas A&M came out smelling like a rose, and even if Texas enjoyed a substantial payday because of the 2010 rumors, their play on the field has made such posturing untenable going forward. Our fearless leader Clay is a better resource for all things expansion than myself, including money and legality questions, but I do know that the SEC has effectively become the dominant power of NCAA football in every aspect of the business. No doubt anything I else I write today will look ridiculous in 2031.