Hear me out
The Longhorn Network just can’t get out of its own way. First they announce (with a great level of pride) that more than half of their staff is coming to Austin from Connecticut, I suppose to show Texans how real sports TV is done. Now, it’s not funny anymore.
Last month Dave Brown, the VP of Programming for the LN, appeared on the local ESPN radio station 104.9 The Horn. It sounded pretty innocent to those of us who first heard it — exciting, even, to those of us who are huge Orangebloods.
He spoke about the Longhorn Network's plans to air live high school football games. The LN announced back in January that it plans to show about 18 different games throughout the high school season. Here’s what he said in his rather obvious New England accent (listen for yourself here, these comments come about 14 minutes into the interview):
“I know people are going to want to see [Longhorn running back recruit] Johnathan Gray. I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray,” Brown told the station. “Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run, whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray.”
He went on, “We will follow the kids being recruited by a lot of the Division 1 schools, certainly some of the kids Texas is recruiting, has recruited and everyone else in the Big 12 is recruiting.”
And he kept going, speaking about another highly touted Longhorn recruit, Conner Brewer, who goes to high school in Arizona, “We may try to get one or two of their games on as well, so people can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene here in Austin.”
So what we have here is a mess, and there is no one better to come clean up Big 12 messes than Dan Beebe, head of the Big 12 and Deloss Dodds, revered Athletic Director at The University of Texas.
As a Longhorn fan, I love that kind of exposure. But apparently the other Big 12 schools weren’t as excited as I; in fact, they were pretty pissed off. It’s their feeling (can’t imagine why) that Texas might just get a smidgen of an edge in recruiting high school athletes if they put them on TV every week. My guess is that while no one at Texas would say this, Texas really doesn’t give a shit about the whining.
But the NCAA and Big 12 do, and they seemed to get Texas' attention.
This first-of-its-kind network will establish a new world when it comes to NCAA rules, and some schools (Texas A&M) apparently wonder if that might be against the NCAA recruiting rules. How does the Worldwide Leader, in charge of creating the very first local college sports network, not know this? I'm told the NCAA is now reviewing the idea of one school's network airing high school football games featuring recruits.
While this all going on, the other nine Big 12 schools started putting significant pressure on the Big 12 conference leadership. Not only are they unhappy about the live high school football games, they were also pretty upset about the idea of the Longhorn Network airing an intra-conference game, like Texas vs. Texas Tech. They figure their fans might not love the idea of paying for the Longhorn Network in order to watch their team play (who would have guessed?), and they say that Texas never discussed the idea with any of them.
So, the Big 12, apparently feeling some need to keep the other nine schools happy, decided maybe they needed to put the kibosh on the live high school games and the intra-conference UT football game — and did, telling the LN to put those plans on hold.
“It’s not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none,” Big 12 commissioner Don Beebe told the Dallas Morning News.
So what we have here is a mess, and there is no one better to come clean up Big 12 messes than Dan Beebe, head of the Big 12 and Deloss Dodds, revered Athletic Director at The University of Texas. I say revered because he is just that. Dodds may well be the most respected athletic director in the country, and Beebe is a clear-headed leader able to find compromise. If these two guys managed to keep the Big 12 together last year, this is child's play in comparison.
Dodds rode in last week on the proverbial white horse telling the Big 12, basically, "We’re on it, and we’ll fix it."
“ESPN knows we don’t want to violate any NCAA rules. They don’t want us to,” Dodds said (again according to the Dallas Morning News).
Of course they don’t. So how did this happen? How does the Worldwide Leader in Sports (aka ESPN, aka The Longhorn Network) announce something like airing live high school football games without first running it by the University’s Compliance department? Yes, they have one, and 10 people work there. If they did, how does Texas sign off on the idea without checking first with the NCAA? And why do neither of these global institutions do the due diligence, at the very least, in order to keep things from spiraling out of control in such a public way?
The situation has become so bad that local sports commentators have begun wondering first, will this be another death knell for the Big 12, and second (if you can believe this) will Texas consider giving the Longhorn Network to the Big 12, making it in effect The Big 12 Network.
All I can say is wow.
However, I do not doubt this thing will come together. ESPN and Texas are not successful because they 'eff' stuff up like this. They will get it together, make everyone happy and do that thing they do so well — make great sports and great sports TV. But there’s also no doubt the Worldwide Leader in Sports and the Most Profitable College Football team in the world have really stepped in it. I did not see this coming.