Why Texas should go independent, not to the SEC

·Columnist
·5 min read

The University of Texas wants to move its athletic department out of the Big 12 Conference. It has for years. A decade ago it was headed to the then Pac-10, before suddenly it wasn’t. A truce was reached with its longtime home, but that was always temporary.

The Longhorns want what they perceive to be greener pastures — certainly the SEC, perhaps some other league, maybe along with Oklahoma. The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that UT and OU have had discussions with the SEC. No one has denied it.

Whether Texas can pull it off politically is the question.

Opposition within the SEC will be led by old rival Texas A&M, who jumped into the conference in 2012 and wants no part of UT following them.

“We want to be the only SEC team from the state of Texas,” said A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, who would be the prime suspect in the case of “who leaked the Texas-is-interested-in-the-SEC-story to the Chronicle.”

In-state, there will be additional hurdles from legislators and representatives of not just the Aggies, but fellow public school Texas Tech and private school Big 12 members TCU and Baylor. This will not be easy to pull off. It's why getting the story out there potentially blocks it … and why A&M had motive to do the leaking.

Regardless, Texas wants out. Except it isn’t the SEC that it should be pursuing.

If the Horns want to go truly bold, then it should go it alone by leaving the Big 12 to become an independent. Yes, just like Notre Dame. And that’s especially true if the proposed 12-team college football playoff passes as is.

Start with this: the SEC is no Shangri-La for Texas.

That league is already a back alley knife fight, and while Texas has the potential to be the top dog in any league, that’s all it is … potential. More often than not, the Horns have squandered their immense power and resources.

If you can’t regularly get past TCU and Oklahoma State, what makes a steady diet of Alabama and LSU seem like a better path to prominence?

Texas mascot Bevo is escorted on to the field before an NCAA college football game against USC, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas has been flirting with leaving the Big 12 for years. (AP)

While the money is no doubt significantly better in the SEC, since when was money an issue at Texas?

No one would be surprised if it came out that they heat the football facilities by burning hundred dollar bills. Texas is absolutely loaded. Money isn’t the issue. Besides, nothing brings additional cash — even enough to eclipse the television revenue gap between the Big 12 and SEC — like winning.

Winning sells tickets, merchandise, parking spots, booster donation tiers and everything else. And Texas has a far clearer path to winning, including conference titles and playoff appearances, right where they are.

Texas would be fine if it stayed put. However, if it just can’t help itself then go with it alone.

As an independent the Horns would be able to schedule whomever they want, wherever they want. No more trips to Kansas or Iowa. They could go national — the way Notre Dame does it. It’s California one week, the Midwest the next, maybe the East Coast after that. Home and homes. One offs. Whatever you want.

In 2018, the Irish played in New York, L.A. and Chicago (not to mention San Diego, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas). That’s the way to build a truly national brand — and to use the football team to attract students from all over the country.

Is it easy? Nope. Is it safe and secure? Not at all. However, this is Texas. It thinks quite highly of itself. That leads to daring moves. Who better for independence than the school representing a state that still thinks it can declare its independence?

Texas is a big enough program, with enough big television markets, that it — perhaps more than any other school other than Notre Dame — could secure a significant media rights deal for home games. As big as the SEC money? No, but likely big enough that it doesn’t matter.

As streaming services become a more significant player in media rights (and basic cable becomes a lesser one), it’s the premium content — big-time football games — that will carry value, not a deep breadth of content via Olympic sports. Better to sell seven or eight coveted home games than the entire Longhorn Network.

Texas can deliver that — the historic, flagship school in the second-biggest state in America. The scheduling possibilities could be exciting. The school could stand out by standing on its own.

And with the college football playoff set to go to 12 teams — a plan written, in part, by Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick — then what’s a conference affiliation really worth?

If Texas (like ND) goes 12-0 or 11-1, it’s almost assuredly in the playoff field. Same as if it's in a conference. As long as there is a path to compete for a national title, then a major independent can continue to recruit at the requisite level.

Other than that, what is this about? The collegial rivalry with Kansas State? You could argue, yes, that means something, but it doesn’t appear Texas agrees. Nostalgia doesn’t seem to matter much these days.

Besides, if you want to play K-State, or any former conference brethren, then schedule them. And anyone else you want.

There really isn’t even much of a risk. Even if independence didn’t work out like Texas hoped, it'd still be a coveted choice to join pretty much any league it wanted. There’s always time. It’s not like Texas is getting left behind.

Demographics are destiny and the Horns have them.

Texas has it much better than it appreciates in the Big 12. Its wandering eyes won’t stop though. If the Longhorns are going to stray, then it isn’t the SEC that should entice them.

If they’ve got to go, then should go it alone.

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