Controversy over the University of Texas's 24-hour Longhorn Network (a joint venture with ESPN that debuts Aug. 26) blew up last week. It turns out fellow Big 12 schools aren't thrilled about having even the occasional football game on a rival's network. And nobody is happy about the Longhorn Network's plan to televise high school games.
As the rest of the Big 12 stewed, league commissioner Don Beebe issued a moratorium: UT cannot show any high school games or add any Big 12 football games until conference members meet to clarify the rules for the network.
The Longhorns want to have their cake and eat Iowa State's too. They want the benefits of conference membership (easy scheduling, automatic berths) while keeping a disproportionate share of revenue. The Horns threatened to bolt the league in 2010, then stayed largely because the Big 12 (which has its own $90-million-a-year contract with Fox) gave them freedom to cut their own deals. That moment made this one inevitable.
This would never happen in the SEC or Big Ten. The SEC's contract with ESPN prohibits the league's schools from creating their own networks. The Big Ten views its schools as equal partners and has for many years.
The Longhorn Network's plan to televise high school games would give Texas a blatant recruiting advantage. NCAA rules prohibit schools from arranging for recruits to be on television. Texas tried to get around the rule by saying that the Longhorn Network is owned by ESPN, not Texas. But that's semantics. Ultimately, the Big 12 needs Texas; Texas wants the network; and ESPN is committed. The Big 12 will figure out how to work with the Longhorn Network. The tougher task, in the long term, may be working with the Longhorns.
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ORANGE APPEAL The Longhorn Network's plans to televise high school and Big 12 football games has caused a flap.