Golden: The Longhorns got roasted at the Capitol but will get the last laugh
Big 12 is contemplating a future with Texas and Oklahoma.
- The Longhorns and Sooners could leave before the 2025 invitation but it could cost them $80 million in exit fees.
- President Jay Hartzell said ESPN did not try and influence Texas' decision.
The people who produce the Comedy Central celebrity roasts would have loved what went down at the Capitol this week on a manic Monday.
The only thing missing from the Texas Senate select committee’s hearing on the future of college sports in Texas was roastmaster general Jeff Ross presiding over the festivities with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart joking about smoking weed and jail time.
With Texas and Oklahoma formally accepting invitations to the SEC effective July 1, 2025, the Big 12 has been left holding a much smaller bag, though the Little Conference That Could is determined to avoid total obliteration.
On Second Thought podcast:Paul Finebaum on UT to the SEC; TexAgs on Aggies' temperature
For those who aren’t familiar with Comedy Central’s roast format, a panel of comedians and celebrities gathers on a stage before a live audience to throw no-holds-barred insults at the guest of honor, usually a megastar who sits there and takes his or her medicine to raise money for a charitable cause.
90 minutes of questions for Hartzell, including how plans for Texas' SEC move began
UT President Jay Hartzell might not be famous, but inside these borders, the school he represents has taken on the black hat persona. After helping orchestrate arguably the most shocking league switch in college football history, he showed up to the hearing for what turned out to be a six-hour UT stoning.
Texas and Oklahoma might have won college football's version of the lottery, but parts of Hartzell’s conversations with a roomful of elected leaders were downright cringeworthy. At times, the questions were respectfully phrased to gain some insight into the decision to leave, but at others it was merely an opportunity for politicians to lob some well-aimed grenades at the Longhorns' brand.
Hartzell spent nearly 90 minutes on the hot seat, and to his credit, he dutifully answered every question. It was obvious he was there to take whatever the lawmakers chose to dish out as Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby — who answered questions for nearly two hours and declined to follow up on his heated accusations of impropriety by Disney/ESPN when the news broke — sat stoically watching from several rows back.
Most notable among Hartzell’s answers was a strong denial that the sports broadcasting giant had influenced Texas' and OU's decisions to leave for greener pastures despite ESPN's $3 billion TV contract with the SEC that will surely swell once the Longhorns and Sooners are part of the mix.
When asked how the whole affair got started, Hartzell said conversations with Oklahoma President Joe Harroz and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey this spring were the early catalyst before things heated up this summer as he consulted with UT System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife, athletic director Chris Del Conte and deputy AD Shawn Eichorst.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, a University of Houston graduate who spent most of the afternoon interrogating the Big 12 representatives as to why the Cougars weren’t invited to the conference years ago, was just as amazed as the rest of the news-gathering-free-flow-of-communication world that the negotiating parties had been able to keep a lid on the powder keg for months.
"Admiral (William) McRaven would be proud of you, because y'all pulled this off like a special ops program,” he told Hartzell.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Victoria, delivered the biggest zinger of the day. After Hartzell disclosed that UT’s athletic budget was more than $200 million, she replied, “3-7 against TCU. Maybe your fan base would rather lose to Alabama than TCU.” Kolkhorst, of course, attended TCU.
Bowlsby: Big 12 could see 50% drop in TV value
The conference now must decide whether it can continue to operate without its biggest money producers. Texas and Oklahoma bring in the highest TV ratings and fill their massive stadiums in addition to being the league's only traditional powerhouses.
Bowlsby said that the Big 12 could suffer a 50% drop in its TV value once Texas and OU leave and that a loss of its Power Five status could further cripple the league. Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoads said his department, which operates on less than half of UT's budget, will have to reexamine the planned construction of a $125 million arena. On a larger scale, the Perryman Group projected an eight-team league sans the Horns and Sooners would face a loss of about $940 million in annual gross product and more than 12,600 jobs.
The odds of the Big 12 regaining its full footing aren’t great because potential replacements just don’t bring the same financial stroke or star power. The chance for bigger money in a much more formidable league — in sheer numbers and winning tradition — was apparently just too attractive to pass up, though Rhoads had a different opinion.
“Many of my colleagues around the country — and believe me, I’ve spoken to quite a few over the past two weeks — have commented that this current situation came about because the University of Texas thinks so much of themselves,” Rhoads said. “I disagree. I think this has come about because Texas thinks too little of themselves. The high-profile success of a neighboring conference has created in them an unwarranted insecurity that has metastasized. Unfortunately, so many of us are left in the fallout.”
The smallest of the Power Five conferences is facing a brutal reality, and its collective decision not to expand to 12 teams years ago was surely a misstep, though it's possible that Texas and Oklahoma pushed to stay at 10 to make a potential break from the league much easier.
Either way, it was a money move, and the fallout is already being felt. The Big 12 got the business end while the Horns and Sooners will make more money even if they never taste another conference title in the beehive they will soon inhabit.
This was clearly about winning at the bank and a chance to silence the critics who say players aren't fully developed in this league when it comes to preparing them for NFL careers.
The Comedy Central roasts always end with the evening's target turning the tables on his or her tormentors to the delight of the audience, but that's where the similarities end with the current state of affairs in a broken Big 12.
A big roast just happened, but this is no laughing matter.