Iowa State Cyclones

For Iowa State fans, Longhorn Network all hat and no cattle

Big ISU-Texas game in TV shadow of ... Kansas-Oklahoma?

(Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
(Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

You may have heard this before, but bigger isn’t always better.

The University of Texas has irritated many Iowans this week and will inconvenience many Saturday night. See, the exclusive television rights to the important football game between the Cyclones and Texas in Austin belongs to Longhorn Network, which isn’t easily accessible to many in our humble little state.

Longhorn Network originally represented the University of Texas looking like the Incredible Hulk in a Big 12-full of Bruce Banners. ESPN signed a 20-year, $295 million contract with UT when it partnered on LHN.

Many wondered how little Kansas State and Oklahoma State and Iowa State could compete against resources that already were lopsided in the Longhorns’ favor. They had their own TV network!

Yet, Texas is a pedestrian 38-32 in Big 12 football with no Big 12 titles since Longhorn Network went on the air in 2011. Since the start of the 2017 season, Iowa State and Texas are both 10-6 in the league.

And, LHN hasn’t been what you’d call wildly popular. Someone in the Houston area tweeted this to me this week: “What’s funny is that most people in Texas don’t have the Longhorn Network, either.”

No, bigger isn’t always better. The Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers. Bigger conference. Great-big TV markets.

The BTN has put more cash in Iowa’s athletic coffers than heaven normally allows. But rarely does money fall from the sky without strings attached. One is having an 8 p.m. tipoff for a Western Carolina-Iowa midweek men’s basketball game because of BTN scheduling, and seeing clusters of empty seats in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

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Men’s basketball doesn’t sell tickets at Iowa like it once did. Playing games at unfriendly times since the BTN’s birth is a factor.

Adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten several years ago, of course, was a cash grab amid fear superconferences were inevitable. You snooze, you lose. Or so it was believed.

New York is 7 million things, many of them grand. A Big Ten city, however, it isn’t. Not even if the conference changes its logo to that of a rat carrying a pizza slice down subway stairs.

Obviously, all that extra money resulting from expansion is great stuff for the league. Especially its ever-growing staff, and the ever-expanding staffs of its schools’ athletic departments.

But there are always trade-offs. One is that you don’t play four teams from the other division in football every year. If you’re Iowa, for instance, you play Rutgers and Maryland as often as Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, your conference partners for over a century.

Also, it has meant the Big Ten has had embarrassment and shame heaped on it by Rutgers and Maryland. At Rutgers, there was a series of unrelated scandals shortly after the school joined the league. Featured characters were a head men’s basketball coach, a head football coach, and an athletic director.

At Maryland this year, a football player died two weeks after suffering heatstroke at a team workout. The head football coach, who had been suspended for several weeks, eventually was reinstated after a two-month independent investigation. For one day, that is, until external pressure led to him getting fired.

If Notre Dame wins its final two games, it will go to the College Football Playoff and at least two Power Five conferences won’t be represented.

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Notre Dame has forever resisted joining a conference for football. Its television deal with NBC dates to 1991. The current contract gives the university $15 million a year and great exposure through 2025. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Meanwhile, Saturday night’s ABC game is Cincinnati-UCF. Fox’s is (ugh) Kansas-Oklahoma. Occasionally, those telecasts will show the Iowa State-Texas score in the scrawl at the bottom of the screen.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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