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Texas AD confirms Longhorn Network to shut down when 'Horns join SEC

The Longhorn Network -- or, more precisely, the rumor of what the LHN could become -- kicked off a chain of events that eventually led to LHN's demise.

Texas and Texas A&M have been locked in a heated and highly annoying cold war for the past 10 years and counting, and a pair of news items dropped Wednesday night and Thursday will allow the Aggies to claim victory, at least on the media front.

Speaking at a caravan event on Wednesday night in Dallas, Texas AD Chris Del Conte confirmed the Longhorn Network will go extinct when the school joins the SEC in the coming years. (Del Conte later walked back the History Channel comment.) 

Purveyors of recent college football history will recall that the Longhorn Network -- or, more precisely, the fear of what the Longhorn Network could become -- helped get us to our current moment. 

Texas and ESPN signed a 20-year, $300 million contract in January of 2011. Though the UT football team was fresh off a 5-7 season, the Longhorns were still a power within the sport -- five seasons removed from a national championship, and two seasons removed from a national title appearance. The Texas men's basketball team reached five Sweet 16s under Rick Barnes in the 2000s, including an Elite Eight in 2008 and earned a No. 1 ranking during the 2009-10 season. The baseball program won two national titles under Augie Garrido in the 2010s, and played in the College World Series finals in 2009. No one at the time knew what was in store for the Longhorns' money programs in the 2010s -- no Big 12 football titles, two NCAA tournament wins, no CWS finals appearances -- at that time. The burnt orange and white were white hot.

And, going back even further to the pre-historic time of 2007, Texas AD DeLoss Dodds initially wanted to partner with Texas A&M to form a joint network, but the Aggies declined. ESPN viewed the $300 million deal as a sunk cost; it was cheaper to pay Texas for its own network than to fund an entire Big 12 Network or to watch the Longhorns leave for the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-10.

But, in 2011, no one knew what UT athletics or the LHN would become, and no one knew or cared about the back story. On other Big 12 campuses, all the knew or cared to know was that ESPN was giving Texas its own network. The SEC didn't have its own network at that time, neither did the ACC. Only the Big Ten did, and an ESPN-run, UT-focused network figured to be akin to an ESPNU clone that existed to promote one school and one school only.

Those fears were seemingly realized when ESPN programming executive Dave Brown, a Texas Ex, went on an Austin radio station in the summer of 2011 and announced the LHN planned to show high school football games. This wasn't a top-of-the-head comment; Brown mentioned a specific number of games (18), and included Texas recruits Connor Brewer and Johnathan Gray as players he'd like to put the ESPN-owned, burnt orange-tinged tractor beam on. 

This, naturally, was an atomic bomb for everyone else in the Big 12. Meetings were held. Press releases were issued. Dodds clarified that Texas would have no input as to which high school games populated the LHN air. Brown later argued that it would be a net positive for the Big 12, since games of Texas commits would inevitably feature recruits of other Big 12 schools, too.

Needless to say, the Longhorn Network never showed high school football games. (Later, there was another rumor that LHN would show not only Texas games against Big 12 opponents, but also games of other Big 12 schools not involving Texas -- specifically a Texas Tech game at Texas State. That never happened, either.)

In fact, the network's launch, shortly before the 2011 football season, was covered not because of its gravitational-shifting power, but because hardly any cable services agreed to carry it. The Texas football and men's basketball teams crumbled from elite to mediocre. For much of the decade, the LHN production was better than the product it existed to show. 

But, in the summer of 2011, none of that happened yet. The conference had barely survived the summer of 2010, when Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado for the Pac-10, and Brown's comments were the lighter fluid that re-ignited the fire. 

Here was then-A&M president R. Bowen Loftin in July 2011:

"The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a non-conference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN's announcement regarding high school games being televised as well," Loftin said. "Both of those, we believe, provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference."

Two months and three days later, Texas A&M officially joined the SEC.

The world was a different place in 2011 and the SEC, looking to match the Big Ten and Texas, was in the process of forming its own network. In pre-cord cutting times, success for a cable network was getting in as many homes as possible, and expanding westward into Texas would be a major source of revenue for a potential SEC Network.

The SEC Network was officially announced on May 2, 2013, and launched on Aug. 14, 2014, to 87 million homes -- at a higher rate than the Big Ten Network. The number has since fallen thanks to changes in the industry, but the SEC Network is still the most successful of its kind.

Fast forward to today, and it's clear the SEC won the war. 

“Today’s action by the Board of Regents is in the best interests of UT student athletes, the UT Austin athletics program overall, and the university," UT system chancellor James B. Milliken said on July 30. "This move ensures a strong future for an outstanding athletics program, providing the opportunity for our student athletes to compete at the highest levels.”

Texas and Oklahoma aren't even in the SEC yet, and already the impact of their move is incalculable. We likely already have a 12-team Playoff if not for their move; now, there's no telling what the CFP becomes. It's possible the NCAA as we know it ceases to exist, in part because of that move. Cincinnati is in the Big 12, Florida Atlantic is in the American, Appalachian State is in the Sun Belt, because of the Longhorn Network. 

Who knows how the cookie crumbles in a world where Texas and ESPN never create the Longhorn Network, and/or never intends to show high school games. The SEC would've created the SEC Network anyway, and perhaps Texas A&M eventually becomes a part of that in order to get that new venture on TV sets in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. 

But Texas A&M doesn't leave the Big 12 when it does if not for the LHN, and Texas isn't joining the SEC today if not for the runaway success of the SEC Network. 

And before long, the Longhorn Network will become defunct, Texas games will air on SEC Network, which will soon be run by an Aggie