It's safe to assume after the acrimonious parting-of-conference-ways between Texas A&M and Texas in 2011, the Aggies and Longhorns didn't exchange cards last Christmas. And judging by comments made to the Birmingham News Saturday by A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, we're not going to wager on relations thawing by Secret Santa time in 2012, either.
In addition to laying A&M's departure from the Big 12 at the feet of the Longhorn Network, Byrne also predicted the network -- still struggling to find widespread cable and satellite distribution -- would, ultimately, fail.
"I think there's too many other kinds of markets in Texas," Byrne said. "Comcast signed off (to distribute) every single ESPN product except the Longhorn Network. That says something. I think it takes more than one football game to drive a network."
Those words will be quickly filed under the heading "sour grapes" in Austin, where the popular narrative involving A&M and the LHN is that the Aggies turned down the opportunity to be a part of the network themselves.
But Byrne hotly disputed that account, saying that before the Aggies had done the homework on whether they could make the financial commitment, the Longhorns had elected to move on without them.
"Once we did [the study], we said we'd be interested but they said it was too late," he said. "There's a rumor that I turned down $300 million. If anybody knows me, I wouldn't turn down $300 million."
Not content with merely predicting the demise of Texas's $300 million television network and accusing the 'Horns of jumping the gun on the schools' potential TV partnership, Byrne also blamed Texas for the dissolution of the century-old rivalry between the Aggies and Longhorns--one he confirmed had ended across all varsity sports, not just football.
"I feel badly about that," he said. "I'm very foolish. I assumed -- and it was a rash assumption on my part -- that our friends over in the state capital would want to continue playing us. It turns out they didn't think we were as much of a rival as we thought of them."
To be fair to Byrne, short of suggesting Bevo be turned into Lone Star State brisket, there's not much he could have said to make relations between the two schools any worse; the damage that matters has been done for months, with (from this neutral perspective) both sides bearing plenty of blame for the breakup. And though the sarcastic edge to Byrne's comments on the end of the rivalry isn't necessary, he's well within his rights to point out that for all the bitterness, his side was willing to continue the series.
That's the position we have no qualms about calling the correct one, given that we're talking about a rivalry that dates back to 1894, that ranks as the third most-played in FBS history, that was -- and should be -- part of the very fabric of college football. That it's been cast aside is nothing less than outright stupidity.
And so as long as there's the tiniest glimmer of hope the two sides might agree to play each other again someday, here's a wish that Byrne had gently wished the LHN luck and moved on. Call us Polyannas if you want, but just because there's a chasm between the two schools doesn't mean it's OK to dig it even deeper, rather than filling it in, does it?
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