Texas Tech detests the Longhorn Network so much that the Red Raiders would rather not play at all than play a game on it.
At least, that’s one way to read Thursday night’s report from Chris Level of RedRaiderSports.com that Tech is mulling the cancellation of its Sept. 8 game at Texas St., which may be broadcast on the LHN. Aside from playing just an 11-game season, that would also entail paying what Level termed a “significant buyout” to the Bobcats for pulling out.
(The backstory behind how it’s even possible for the game to be aired on the LHN is convoluted and boring. Just know that it’s well within the contractual rights of both ESPN and the WAC, which owns the broadcast rights to the game.)
It’s not the first time Tech has tussled with the LHN. A year ago, the Red Raiders raised a ruckus when they went public with claims that ESPN was trying to strongarm Tech into playing its game against Texas last fall on BevoTV. It was part of a pastiche of precipitating events that ultimately led to Texas A&M and Missouri leaving the Big 12 and Oklahoma making a play for Pac-12 membership.
Outside of Lubbock, the circumstances of this latest kerfuffle don’t mean much. In the bigger picture, however, this latest spat illustrates just how divisive the Texas-branded network remains, particularly in Big 12 country.
The fact that Tech’s administration would threaten to cancel the game may come off as an overreaction. However, it’s not a stretch to say that fans would demand Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt’s head if the game was played on the LHN. Paying a huge buyout actually makes for an appealing alternative to the unemployment line.
Likewise, does anyone doubt that Tech would be able to round up reinforcements in the Big 12 to threaten a boycott of the Bobcats and the rest of the current WAC membership in future scheduling?
The controversy also raises questions about who’s minding the store for ESPN in this endeavor. After having gone through a similar fiasco a year ago, who thought Tech wouldn’t raise hell this time around?
From trying to televise high school games to attempting to declare imminent domain over conference TV games, the bull-in-a-china-shop approach to getting the LHN off the ground has blown up in the Worldwide Leader’s face from a PR perspective. The shoot-first attitude towards launching the network has likely poisoned the well in terms of getting meaningful cooperation from Texas’ conference mates, assuming that was even possible in the first place. (You could argue that Tech’s latest threat represents an outright sabotage attempt.)
You also have to wonder what they’re thinking down in Austin, too.
Texas doesn’t really have a say in this latest dispute. However, for all the talk that the Longhorns are just happy collecting a check from ESPN, they have all but staked their long-term brand equity on the success of the LHN.
It may be ESPN’s property, but it’s Texas’ flag that the network is carrying. Sloughing off the dirty work involved in getting traction for the LHN on ESPN will only work for so long, and the scrutiny will only intensify so long as the network broadcasts to its thousands of subscribers.