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The Final Showdown: Longhorn Network and ESPN’s Texas Venture That Once Shook Up the Big 12

When the Longhorn Network launched in 2011, it brought Texas its own 24-hour television showcase in partnership with ESPN. The network, with its 20-year, $300 million deal, caused a stir in college sports and continues to have an impact today.

Many rivals in the Big 12 Conference complained that Texas was gaining an unfair advantage in recruiting due to the network’s financial resources. There were concerns that the Longhorns would dominate the rest of the league and become a force to be reckoned with in college athletics.

However, after twelve years, the network will be discontinued as Texas joins the Southeastern Conference (SEC) next summer. The Longhorn Network will be merged into the SEC Network, marking the end of an era that brought about changes in NCAA rules and set the stage for the development of conference networks.

The architect of the idea for the Longhorn Network, former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, admitted that it was a bold move. The network aimed to showcase not just football and basketball, but also other sports like volleyball, softball, and baseball. Dodds envisioned it as a platform for increasing exposure for various sports within the Texas athletics program.

However, football was the primary focus for ESPN, which saw the network as an opportunity to tap into Texas’ vast alumni base and the passionate fanbase that surrounded the Longhorns. The network promised extensive coverage of Texas football and behind-the-scenes programming.

The Longhorn Network faced initial challenges in securing deals with cable and satellite carriers, but it eventually gained more viewers and expanded its coverage to include all Texas sports. Despite some opposition from opposing teams and coaches, the network strove to produce high-quality television content.

While the Longhorn Network did not achieve all its initial ambitions, it did play a role in the realignment of college conferences. The emergence of the network, coupled with Texas’ perceived influence in the Big 12, prompted the departure of teams like Texas A&M and Missouri to other conferences.

Now, as the Longhorn Network comes to a close, Texas will be transitioning to the SEC, where a new era awaits. The legacy of the network will be remembered for its quality programming and its role in sparking conference realignment.

In the end, the Longhorn Network’s journey was unique and may never be replicated again.

The Longhorn Network was an ambitious project that aimed to elevate Texas athletics beyond football and basketball. While it faced criticism and challenges along the way, it made an impact on college sports and contributed to the evolution of conference networks. As Texas prepares to embark on a new chapter in the SEC, the legacy of the Longhorn Network will remain a memorable part of the school’s sports history.

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