Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Jan 2011

ESPN: Texas May Choose Independence

Texas' landmark $300 million deal with ESPN last week to launch a Longhorn television network had been in the works for years. But after flirting with the Big Ten and Pac-10 during last summer's conference realignment saga, Texas' decision to anchor the ten-team Big 12 made the network and its financial windfall possible. It also opened the door for another potential decision: football independence.

Setting aside the financial and non-revenue sports aspects of such a decision, what might the impact of independent Texas football have on the Longhorns competitive interests? And beyond that, Texas might set the stage for the rise of a new set of powerful independent programs that could mutually benefit the connectivity of college football teams.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 25 Jan 2011

7 comments, Last at 26 Jan 2011, 10:00am by justanothersteve


by Eric R (not verified) :: Tue, 01/25/2011 - 3:21pm

Heh, as a fan of KSU, which was on the verge of being left out in the cold last summer, I thought what would be a great thing would be to have 11 schools pull a Notre Dame, that is, be in their current conference for non-football sports. For football, those schools would join a football only super conference.

Something like this:
Ohio St
Notre Dame
+3 others by invitation, probably 2 from the SEC

Each team would play every other team (10 games), plus a game against some other rival (Ohio St v. Penn St, Michigan v. Michigan St, Oklahoma v. Oklahoma St, Texas v. Texas A&M, USC v UCLA, Alabama v Auburn, etc.) for a guarantee of 66 premium games every year. Each team would be guaranteed 2.5 million per game in TV money (including the other team in the rival game. This would guarantee 27.5 million+ bowl money to each school). The schools would claim their champion should have a guaranteed spot in the 4 team national tournament.

Other conferences would keep smaller memberships for football, maybe reverting to complete round robin schedules as the smaller Big 12 will do this year. The three best teams from these conferences would join the team from the Big Dog conference to play for the national title.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/25/2011 - 4:47pm

The easy argument I see is why, in 2011, are you going to include teams like Michigan or Notre Dame, who have been largely irrelevant for several years, at the expense of Boise St or Virginia Tech, who have not? Or to say another way, unless you want to go through the Herculean task of rotating teams in and out of the "SuperLeague" every few years and breaking up the other conferences, those "Premium" games won't remain "Premium" in 3-5 years time. A few years ago Miami and Florida St. would have needed to be invites.

Also, why would Ohio St, who in recent years has had a relatively easy run to 10-1, choose to join a conference where they might finish .500?

Thirdly, I'm willing to bet most of their current conferences would vote to expell them from all sports if they were to withdraw from football.

by Don (not verified) :: Tue, 01/25/2011 - 5:19pm

Why include Michigan/ND? $$$

by Joseph :: Tue, 01/25/2011 - 4:45pm

One reason it wouldn't happen--there have been some years where at least 2 of those teams would have been in the final 4, plus I'd bet other years where 3 or 4 of them were among the best 4 teams in the country. The money is good, but why would those teams want to "beat up on" each other every week when they can play in a lesser conference, chalk up double-digit wins, and maybe play for the national championship??

by Whatev :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 12:13am

I could see it happening if they ended up with some kind of playoff system, say four slots and the superconference gets one, maybe some other teams form another superconference and get another, with the remaining two slots being picked up in the current voting-type system.

by cfn_ms :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 2:19am

but I think you're giving short shrift to the problems associated with independence, most notably how to schedule for all of the non-football sports. Notre Dame is only able to be a football independent because they can part their other sports in a pretty good league; if no AQ league wanted them without football they'd have a much tougher set of choices to make. Texas would have the same types of issues, since it's highly unlikely the Big 12 would be OK with becoming the dumping ground for their non-revenue sports without football as part of the deal.

I also think that you're being unclear as to whether independence would help Texas in football because they could weaken their schedule or because they could strengthen it. You raise the point about Oklahoma being stronger than them as a program, but they'd still play the Sooners annually in the Red River Shootout, so I'm not sure how Oklahoma would be less of an obstacle were Texas to go independent.

I do think that greater connectivity would be good for us statistical analysts, but I'm not sure that really translates to being good for the sport "as a whole." College football has a great many issues, and I think that connectivity is fairly low on that list, even if it is more of a concern for the work that we all do.

I don't know how familiar you are with the issues surrounding expansion, both Texas-specific (including the issues that relate to the state legislature) and for other programs. I'd encourage you to try out Frank the Tank ( http://frankthetank.wordpress.com/ ) as a starting point; he's generally been pretty well on top of things in terms of understanding a lot of the underlying issues (though he's fairly Big Ten centric). There are a number of others who've written interesting things on expansion, but I think that would be a pretty solid starting point if you're curious.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 10:00am

I think UT should split into 4 smaller schools, increasing the number of Texas FBS schools by 30%.