Williams: UT exiting Big 12 for SEC not a plus for Red Raiders
Time and again throughout the Big 12 Conference's 25 years of competition, Texas Tech supporters have expressed a desire to be rid of their uppity compatriots from the University of Texas.
Tech should blaze its own trail and leave the Big 12, the sentiment goes, though that was never followed by an explanation of exactly how, given that invitations from elsewhere are required. Or the alternative: If the Red Raiders have nowhere to go, let the Longhorns hit the trail.
Hey, you want to express disdain for the burnt orange, be my guest. Someone once sat at this keyboard and ranked Austin the worst city in the Big 12. Yep, 10th out of 10 — it was either that or 17th. And the Longhorns have managed to get on the bad side of nearly every other member of the conference, the ones who were there at the start and the ones who are here at the end. That's hard to pull off. Take a bow, I suppose.
But now the wish to be free of UT is about to be granted, and it's not a positive for the Red Raiders.
As expected, UT and Oklahoma gave notice Monday to the Big 12 that they're short-timers for the conference, departing no later than 2025. Everyone following this story believes their exits will come earlier than that, probably by quite a bit.
The other eight members of the conference will suffer, but we'll deal here with Texas Tech specifically. A financial hit is coming. It's hard to imagine that whatever TV contract Tech is party to next will be close to the ones the Big 12 has with ESPN and FOX that run through the 2024-25 school year. UT and OU were primary drivers of those dollars.
One of the best possible outcomes for Tech would be to wrangle an invitation from the Pac-12. Even that scenario, though one in which the Red Raiders would be surrounded with other power-five programs and regain security, should not be analogized to Simone Biles sticking the landing.
Here we'll point out that in May 2019 — using these figures because no one had ever heard of COVID-19 back then; in other words, they reflect a normal year — the Big 12 announced the annual revenue distribution to its members would average $38.8 million per school, and the Pac-12 the same month announced its annual distribution at $31.3 million.
Another hit will come at the gate.
On 29 of the past 30 occasions the Longhorns have played a football game in Lubbock, a stretch that dates to 1962, it's been the Red Raiders' highest-attended home game of the season. (The Longhorns have been outdrawn as a visitor at Jones Stadium only by Nebraska in 1996.)
In 42 of 45 football seasons from 1966 through 2010, the Red Raiders' most-attended home game was the UT game or the Texas A&M game, those two coming to Lubbock in alternating years. (The only other times Tech fans turned out more in anticipation of another opponent were for Southern Cal in 1979 and Oklahoma in 2003.)
Now the Aggies are gone, the Longhorns are going, a game-day revenue stream shrinks with it, and fan interest diminishes. Maybe not by a lot, but it does.
That's the part the break-from-Texas/Longhorns-be-gone crowd never grasped. Those are the Red Raiders' biggest rivals, the schools that enflame the most people to the hottest degree and someday soon Tech will not have UT on the schedule for the first time since 1959.
Wishing for that scenario never made much sense. Do Red Sox fans petition the American League to be moved out of a division with the Yankees? Have the Cowboys asked to be moved away from the Eagles, Giants and Redskins?
In a previous dynamic, Kent Hance and Gerald Myers once had agreements with Bill Powers and DeLoss Dodds that wherever UT went, Tech would come along and have that security. When the faces changed at UT, so did the looking out for the other.
Anyhow, now that it soon will be a moot point, on to the pressing matter of Tech firming up its future. As noted previously, of the scenarios that stand a reasonable chance of playing out — Tech to the SEC is not one; Tech to the Big Ten is not one; Tech to the ACC is probably not one — the best outcomes for Tech are a spot in the Pac-12 or remaining in a Big 12 saved by expansion, not necessarily in that order.
All about the money:When winning is no longer top priority
Expect the Big 12 to see if schools that jumped ship in years past could be talked into a return. Hey, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Arkansas, a certain strong personality is leaving the building. Farfetched to think those ex-members would come back and probably a pipe dream with the pay cuts they'd need to take. But it would take only two, it's the best alternative and means the calls should be made.
The Big 12 must be wary of exploring alternatives from the American Athletic Conference. That's a specter fraught with all sorts of negatives — in order, dramatically diminished TV revenue, the inability to tell which AAC program can actually be counted upon to sustain success and the impossibility of selling Big 12 fans on the viability of additions from the group of five.
Think it would be good to grab Cincinnati, which made the New Year's Six last season and finished with a No. 8 national ranking? The Bearcats were 4-8 in 2016 and again in 2017, not to mention their history is uninspiring. Cincy's recent success probably lasts only until Luke Fickell takes a job in what we've known as a power-five conference.
As with Cincinnati under Fickell, Central Florida has had a nice run under Scott Frost and Josh Heupel, but the Golden Knights have had 0-12 and 6-7 seasons in the past six years and now are on another new coach, Gus Malzahn.
Buyer beware, Big 12. Not just with the AAC's recent flashes, but with whichever program turns into the flavor of the year between now and 2025.
At least fans around the Big 12 are soon to be done with Texas, a prospect that will make them feel good, at least for a little while.