A few years ago, myself and pretty much every other fan of college sports were enraged at the thought of the Longhorn Network and the issues it raised. At the time, it seemed that the University of Texas would have a stranglehold on the sports world and there was little anyone could do about it. Looking back on that situation, it would seem we all lost our collective minds over nothing. Texas has always, and will always, have more money...better facilities...and a sense of arrogance that only Austin can inspire. But, again, at the time it seemed that the college football world was about to be turned on its head, and that didn't sit well with anybody not wearing faded orange.
Now before we go further, I think it's pretty obvious that aside from giving Texas around 15 million dollars extra a year, the Longhorn network has been, to this point, an abject failure. 'Horns fans may disagree, but considering the reluctance of major cable companies to pick up the network (Time Warner and Cox being the only two major companies I'm aware of,) along with the refusal of all Big 12 schools not named Kansas or Iowa State to allow their games to be played on their airwaves, I'd say it's basically a useless channel, and one which ESPN has lost a vast amount of money on. ESPN, much like the elusive honey badger, doesn't give a shit about $15 million a year. ESPN probably makes that up by halftime of Monday Night Football.
Now all that COULD change...and all the cable companies COULD jump on board and shove the LHN down our throats...but currently I don't believe it has had the impact (on UT athletics) that most expected it would. Regardless of how successful the network has been, the Texas football team has been sub standard (and let's all be honest, no one was worried about the advantage UT would have in mens 100m pond rowing) . Since it's inception in 2011, Texas has gone 26-14. Sounds decent, but let's look at the decade preceding that, and in those ten years UT had a record of 106-23. So after a coaching and "culture" change this years squad is a dominant 1-2, and staring down a solid season of either 4-8, or possibly 5-7.
However, while not sending the Longhorns to greater college football dominance, the LHN has succeeded in bringing about drastic change to the world of college football in general, not by anything it actually did, or some advantage it gave Texas. No, simply the threat of change forced change, which is actually an amazing thing to contemplate. Since the announcement of the LHN, athletic directors, for lack of a better description, have lost their collective shit. Conferences have always, and will always, change membership. But the rate at which that change has happened has basically gone into plaid (if you don't get that you're too young.)
In the past three years there have been over 100 membership changes affecting 27 different conferences (effectively dissolving 2 of those). Now before you say that I've been drinking too much, which I probably have, I'm including everything down to the division III level. As far as the major conferences are concerned, 13 schools changed conferences, the Big East dropped football, and the American Conference was born. Go back to the prior 25 years and you have basically two major events; the end of the Southwest conference (and the birth of the Big 12), and Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami defecting from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. So in the past three years we've changed more than in the previous quarter decade.
And yes, this was indeed caused by the Longhorn Network. Nebraska left the Big 12 directly because of it, so did Texas A&M. Colorado is always high so you can't tell what they were thinking. The Big 12 was on deaths door, with 6 schools preparing to join the PAC-12, and had it not been for the LHN that would have happened, and schools like Kansas and Iowa State would have been screwed in ways porn can't even comprehend. I think the most amazing part of all those changes is the fact that the LHN caused the Big 12 to almost die, then saved it because no other conference would allow Texas to join and keep that bastard.
Beyond that, coaches salaries have gone from an average of $725,000 in 2001 to $1.64 million in 2012, per USAToday. The next time your season ticket renewal letter arrives and you have a mild stroke looking at the prices, remember that. Some would say that's just the nature of the beast, but I would say that beast is juicing lately. Now you may be wondering how exactly that's the LHN's fault, and directly it's not.
It's entirely Texas' fault.
They began the arms race for football coaches back in 2009, but when the additional revenue that the LHN would bring in started floating around, teams began raising coaches salaries more than in the previous 100 years combined. Now I'm sure if we adjust for inflation and carry the two it's more like the previous 50 years, but I'd say that's still a pretty large change.
Finally, we come to the death of the BCS. The Bowl Championship Series is the most derisive issue college football fans had ever encountered. Absolutely no one supported the system near its end, including its creators (who read the tea leaves and helped nail the coffin shut on their system, coincidentally in time to get a piece of the new one.) In reality the BCS wasn't that bad, as for the first time ever there was only one champion (except for that time in 2003,) and you didn't have the Alabama's of the world able to claim any championship they want. What I find humorous is the arguement that having a panel of experts is superior to a computer system. Nobody ever bitches about the basketball selection committee, right? Don't take this as me being a BCS supporter...I'm not; we got screwed out of a shot at the championship game under this system, but I don't think this playoff will be the final answer either.
I've tried to find a way to directly attach the death of the BCS to the Longhorn Network, but I can't. I believe that this is a byproduct of fan angst, the same fan angst that led to schools like Nebraska abandoning the Big 12. This change may have been inevitable, but I believe it was hastened by the changes to the conferences. So from that aspect perhaps you could say the LHN had a hand in it, but that's a bit of a stretch.
So, is college football destroyed? If you care about traditional matchups, rivalry's, conferences that make geographic sense, and believe that schools exist to educate first and compete in athletics second, then college football is in worse shape than Syria. When the Big 12 was looking at expansion possibilities two years ago, teams like Florida State and Clemson were brought up as "good fits." From a money making standpoint, sure, but come on now folks, when it's an eight hour flight then a two hour drive to go see an away game I feel like we've jumped the shark a bit. But all good things must eventually come to an end, and I guess if I can't watch new episodes of Futurama anymore and I haven't eaten a bullet yet, I'll come to love our new reality (time heals all wounds, except for HIV.)