Slowly but surely Texas’s arrogance, me-first attitude, and bullying nature has isolated it from other schools in college football. The Longhorns desperately want all the benefits of independence without the hindrance of actually being independent. For years Oklahoma and Texas A&M, the two rivals that helped to make Texas the program that it is, took the incessant provocation from Texas’s insistent ambition without response. Other strong schools sick of being held under Texas’s boot left. Arkansas leapt to the SEC, Nebraska and Colorado joined the Big Ten and the Pac 12, all of these schools recognized an immutable truth — Texas would bully them forever.
This left Texas with two major program allies: Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
See, the NFL realized long ago that a league was only as strong as its weakest link. In order to be good, all the teams have to be competitive; there has to be the possibility of anything happening in any given week.
Texas doesn’t believe that to be true.
The Longhorns believe that they are the lone star in a sky devoid of other celestial bodies. The heliocentric theory meets football, Texas as the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Finally, Texas A&M had enough.
What was the final impetus, the straw that broke the Longhorn’s back?
Texas had the gall to sign a deal with the ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, a nakedly self-serving attempt to brand itself as a stand-alone superpower. The very contract itself prevented the other Big 12 schools from banding together to form any network that included Texas. The Longhorn Network, the TV deal that launched a thousand ships, wasn’t just about Texas having its own network, it was about the scope and ambition of the intent. ESPN ponied up $15 million a year over twenty years to carry Texas athletic events, but anyone who read the contract — and lots of y’all did here — knew that ultimately Texas wasn’t going to be content with showing just one or two football games on the network.
No, in order for this network to make long-range sense it had to include the ultimate prize — Longhorn football games.
And it had to include more than one of those games, and it had to include high school games, and it had to be clear that Texas wasn’t just the Lone Star state’s preeminent program, this was about annexation of the nation, Pax Texana. The Longhorn Network had to have something that people actually wanted to watch to make up the 8,760 hours of yearly programming. Cooking with Vince Young and Boating with Cedric Benson is only good for 500 hours a year.
Otherwise, how much shilling for Texas could ESPN really do? (That’s a sarcastic question. The answer is, of course, infinity).
Anyone with half a brain could see that the Longhorn Network gave Texas the long-range goal of being independent. Only, you guessed it, in the meantime the Longhorns could have their cake and eat it too. The money of independence with the cushy creature comforts of a conference it dominated. Texas was the baron, the other schools were the serfs. It was separate but equal football, he with the biggest boots wins.
And Texas had the biggest boots around.
But then Texas A&M, the perpetual little brother, finally had enough. The Aggies realized that Texas was committed to going it alone in the future and just using A&M until that day came. So A&M did what Texas believed it would never have the guts to do, A&M joined the SEC.
Then Oklahoma, long used to playing second fiddle to Texas — even as it waxed the Longhorns on the field — realized that Texas wasn’t interested in anyone but Texas. So Oklahoma looked west to the Pac 12, “The Grapes of Wrath” without the Joads, loaded up its program and decided to head west. (Hopefully going west ends better for the Oklahoma schools than it did for the Joads). Taking Oklahoma State along for the ride an emboldended Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops even said its rivalry game with Texas wasn’t necessary anymore.
The rivalry game, by the way, that was already the only major game that garnered the Big 12 national attention.
Suddenly Texas, the school that was going to own the nation, is riding second saddle, clinging to A&M and Oklahoma for dear life.
Only most Longhorn fans haven’t realized it yet.
That’s because Oklahoma and Texas A&M finally stared down Texas, tumbleweeds blowing past, with both schools poised to fire. Texas blinked first.
Yes, the Big 12 may well survive thanks to the television contracts. And Texas may well make even more money.
But money without good games is a dangerous place to find yourself in a country that is soon to be over run with mega-conferences with mega-weekly contests.
If Texas stays in the Big 12 and plays Texas Tech, Missouri — assuming it resists SEC overtures –, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, SMU and Houston (or two or three other schools that jump to join the Big 12) is that a schedule that is going to make the Longhorns a national power? Throw in a couple of challenging games out of conference and the Longhorns stride across the nation’s stage but rarely. Meanwhile Texas A&M, the little brother, will be playing massive national games every week.
After all this does Texas need Texas A&M and Oklahoma as much or more than either school needs Texas?
The answer is yes.
Only those schools have finally messed with Texas and won.
The Longhorns are too scared to join the Aggies in the SEC and won’t be able to keep their precious Longhorn Network in the Pac 12. So Texas may have to capitulate to join the Pac12, follow Oklahoma’s lead.
What then for Texas, the school that attempted to take over the nation and ended up losing its dominant grip on a region?
Already Texas is frittering away its past rivalries: Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma are gone, and schools that should have become major national rivals have left as well, Nebraska and Colorado. The final kicker? All of those schools find themselves in better positions than Texas.
Texas’s own naked ambition has isolated the Longhorns. Pax Texana, the era that was supposed to begin with the Longhorn Network, is looking a lot more like Pox Texana, the Longhorns have cursed themselves.
The Longhorn Network may have won Texas the battle, but in the process Texas A&M and Oklahoma have won the war.