If there was ever any meaningful information to be gleaned by observing the maneuverings of the University of Texas, and now ESPN, it's that in pursuit of their next payday they will not hesitate to play Jenga with the rest of the BIG 12's hierarchy of needs. Sadly, it was hardly a blip on the college football radar last week when ESPN attempted to strong arm Texas Tech into playing their game at Texas State on UT's Longhorn Network. ESPN owns the television rights to the WAC and are legally entitled to televise the game on any platform they choose. The only options available to the already cash strapped Texas Tech, was to cancel the game and make a very large payment to Texas State, or agree to play the game and give ESPN additional leverage to negotiate distribution of the LHN with cable providers in Texas. Tech's response was to threaten to cancel the game. ESPN, rather than deal with the public relations nightmare of what would appear as having forced Tech to play an eleven game season, appears to have relented.ESPN's arrogant, brutish, bullish and otherwise insolent approach to forcing the LHN down the throats of the rest of the college football world is as sad a commentary as you will find on the state of college football. The fact that UT and Deloss Dodds gleefully celebrated and paraded their pact with the evil empire in the collective faces of the rest of college football, is equal parts disturbing and disgusting. This unholy alliance is reminiscent of the one NBC and Notre Dame forged three decades ago. Ultimately, the mostly regional LHN will never provide the endless stream of viewers and merchandise sales that the NBC/Notre Dame coalition does, but it will someday provide UT a decidedly unfair advantage over their BIG 12 brethren in the most fertile recruiting grounds in the conference.
As terrible as this all sounds to the traditionalist within the college football fan base, it's really only a microcosm of what college football has already become. Enormous television contracts, the BCS, conference upheavals, supersaturated bowl seasons, inflated coaches salaries, the facilities arms race with no finish line. Up next, a selection committee with a four team bracketed playoff. Tomorrow, eight teams, then sixteen. Before our very eyes, the machine of college football while attempting to satisfy its unquenchable thirst for power and money, is on the fast track to destroying its own identity. Where does this end? How can it end?
Perhaps the question we should be asking is, how did this massive money grab come to exist within the structure of a supposed non-profit organization of colleges and universities? Some believe it started with Notre Dame/NBC. However, it was the University of Oklahoma that paved the way for Notre Dame and (ironically) the LHN, by bringing suit against the NCAA for limiting the number of games that could be televised each year. The final ruling was in favor of Oklahoma and the floodgates were opened. As much as this ruling has enabled college football to be where it is today, it did not promote the free-for-all environment that has become so commonplace. The harsh truth is, we the fan demanded it. How? Because for decades we demanded the best coaches, we demanded the best athletes, the best facilities, bigger stadiums, bigger jumbotrons, and we refused to take "no" for an answer, lest we take our dollars and go home. Then once we got what we wanted, we demanded more. We demanded our team always beat their rival, we demanded there be no rebuilding year, we demanded 10 to 12 wins, and if we didn't get it, we demanded the coaches/players/AD's head. To say the universities and the NCAA weren't somehow complicit in all of this would defy all logic and reason, but the average fan played just as large a role, or maybe even larger.
At this point in the game though, exactly how this all came to be is now irrelevant. The lid is officially off this Pandora's box and there's no putting it back on. The brutal reality is, the devolution of college football is on a runaway train, full steam ahead. The real irony in all of this for the college football purist is, it's just what we asked for.