Wasn't this supposed to be the year the Big 12 gets along? Even with Texas A&M and Missouri decamped to the SEC, it seems some members of the conference still don't love ESPN's University of Texas-branded Longhorn Network.
As Chris Level and Aaron Dickens of RedRaidersports.com reported, Tech's September 8 game at Texas State could air on the LHN as part of the Western Athletic Conference's TV deal with ESPN , and that has one "athletic department source with direct knowledge of the situation" claiming TTU would sooner pay a penalty to drop the game than be part of its conference rival's channel, which is still not even carried by most cable/satellite providers.
Just as ESPN can put games on ESPNU or its online-only ESPN3 if they don't think it's a big enough contest to be on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, it can now include the Longhorn Network, which has already been airing University of Texas at San Antonio home football games. Texas State and UTSA are both in the WAC—and at the "Football Bowl Series" level of college football—for the first time this year.
As Level and Dickens wrote:
ESPN announced earlier this month that the game would be carried on one of its platforms, but did not specify which.
Tech learned of this possibility several days ago, and according to the source, is "adamantly opposed to playing on the Longhorn Network" and is "putting serious consideration into canceling the game and playing an 11 game schedule" this fall.
"We are extremely disappointed," the source told RRS. "Our hope is that the Texas State game will be played on a primary ESPN platform."
These are not exactly new emotions. As Jon Mark Beilue of the Amarillo Globe-News reported back in August of 2011 (when all the wounds were fresh) the Raiders refused to have their November 5, 2011, game against UT air on the Longhorn Network, an "opportunity" that arose because ESPN said neither they nor ABC were likely to carry it.
According to Beilue's story, at that time, Tech chancellor Kent Hance reportedly said, "I don't want a Tech fan to have to give one dime to the Longhorn Network," though Richard Connelly of the Houston Press was unable to confirm that quote.
While UT-Tech had been one of the Big 12's biggest games as recently as one year after the infamous 2008 Red Raiders win, ESPN wasn't bluffing—the game ended up airing on Fox Sports Southwest, with a less-than-prime 11 a.m. kickoff.
This past February, when both ESPN and Fox Sports passed on a UT-Tech men's basketball game in Austin, that game aired on the Longhorn Network.
With Texas Tech coming off a 5-7 season, Nick Bromberg of the Yahoo! Sports college football blog Dr. Saturday dismissed the Raiders' hope of seeing the game aired on a "primary" platform.
Tech is picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big XII and 2012 is Texas State's first year in the FBS. Simply put, it's a game with regional appeal that will likely be a blowout
At CBS Sports' Eye on College Football, Tom Fornelli writes that "something tells me that [the] WAC won't be choosing the Longhorn Network after hearing this news."
But it seems more likely that the WAC will do whatever ESPN wants. The conference has been greatly weakened by the latest round of college football realignment. Even Texas State will only play one season in the WAC before going to the Sun Belt. Ditto UTSA, which didn't even have a football team until 2011, but is already taking off for Conference USA.
The question is, will Tech also do whatever ESPN wants, or would they really kill the game?
In an interview with Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal last month, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said the school still aspires to have its own network or broadcast deal that would reach fans in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.