No Plus for the Miners — What ESPN’s New Deal with the Big 12 Does for UTEP and Conference USA

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By Mark S. McDonald Sr., undocumented college sports railbird

In case you missed it, cable sports gorilla ESPN just drove a $40 million wedge between NCAA haves and have-nots. Specifically, the network signed an agreement, beginning this year, for ESPN+ to deliver Big 12 football and basketball games on its online subscription streaming service.

This is new revenue for the Big 12, over and above its other TV contracts. Meanwhile, UTEP and Conference USA gets left holding the bag. Follow:

UTEP’s share of C-USA’s five-year deal CBS Sports currently brings in about $200,000 a year. A fraction of the Big 12 booty. North Texas Athletic Director Wren Baker last year said the league is looking for broader distribution and more cheese. Jolly good, amigo, but this latest news leak means the Big 12 lurches ahead. How?

Athletes thrive on two things — playing time and attention. The deal brings no new exposure to C-USA, only to its regional recruiting rivals.

Say, you happen to be a flagship running back from Dallas who wants to perform in front as many people as possible. Or, a power forward from Houston. All things being equal (in your young mind), you sign with a Big 12 school, not UTEP or Rice or La Tech. In basketball, the NCAA’s big cigars have already blown a cloud of smoke in our faces.

Tournament Selection Committee the past six years has relegated C-USA to one-bid status, where only the league champion makes it to the Big Dance. Even that single number is conducted off-Broadway.

Last month, C-USA champ Old Dominion was DOA, buried with a No. 14 seed. The Monarchs did what was the NCAA required of them: They lost in the first round, to Purdue. So what of UTEP?

History tells us UTEP has a winning past. I cling to that lifeline for the very oxygen I breathe. But owing to money, the Mountain Time Zone and empty seats, we know winning in El Paso is a challenge. So, we turn to UTEP’s fresh-faced leadership for optimism.

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Heather Wilson

Unlike a couple dozen idle sign-carriers with more spare time than free thoughts, I’m dialed into performance. The here and now. My spies tell me Heather Wilson is blessed with keen intellect and carries impeccable credentials. Fifty-two years ago, UTEP gave opportunity to a 6-2, 210-pound lineman who had played only one year of varsity football. I hope Wilson gets her chance, too.

Ditto for new-ish A.D. Jim Senter, plus two revenue-sport coaches going into their second seasons – football’s Dana Dimel and Rodney Terry in hoops. Time for all Miners to strap in tight.

Any UTEP climb back to national relevance will be daunting. ESPN did nothing to make it easier.

Mark McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year starter in football. His 350-page, fully-illustrated historical narrative, entitled Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, covers the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969 and chaos in America. Copies available in late April 2019. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.

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