Senior Writer

Prep games on Longhorn Network could drive Aggies to SEC


HOOVER, Ala. -- Mike Slive has read (via Twitter) the digital dissatisfaction coming from College Station, Texas, lately.

In fact, as the SEC commissioner strode to the podium Wednesday to kick off the conference's media days, the two hottest rumors had to do with his retirement and conference expansion. Neither one was true. For now.

"I could get to 16 [teams] in 15 minutes," Slive said later, semi-boastfully.

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The 71-year-old commissioner plans to be around a few more years. The same goes for his conference. But in what form? There is continued consternation emanating from Texas A&M about next month's launch of The Longhorn Network.

Specifically, A&M, and others in the Big 12, are concerned that TLN might show high school games. To them, that would be a huge recruiting advantage for a school and program that already enjoys the best of everything. Seven weeks away from the start of the regular season, the NCAA still hasn't ruled.

Is that enough for A&M to leave the Big 12 or for the SEC to listen? It's way too early to assume anything but the same problems are emerging in the new Big 12 as did in the old Big 12. It is still Longhorns-centric to the point that the league owes its existence to UT. It was Texas that decided the Big 12 was a better home for the moment than the Pac-10. Still, the Big 12 continues to be a marriage of convenience since its beginning in 1996.

Now add Texas' own network and there are a whole new set of circumstances. The Aggies and Horns are bitter rivals fighting over talent and for supremacy. There are political implications. Texas A&M's regents are meeting Thursday with a closed-door session included to discuss the network. According to a source, the Big 12 presidents met by phone Wednesday to discuss "institutional networks."

"In all candor," A&M AD Bill Byrne told on Wednesday, Texas "could create a great advantage not only in the state of Texas but throughout the country."

How big of an advantage? ESPN vice president of programming Dave Brown is in charge of the network. He said during a June radio interview that the network would "do about 18 games the first year." That's essentially 1 1/2 seasons of potential future Longhorns on The Longhorn Network.

That could potentially violate NCAA Bylaw 13.10.3: "A member institution shall not permit a prospective student-athlete or a high school, college preparatory school or two-year college coach to appear, be interviewed or otherwise be involved (in person or via film, audio tape or videotape) on:

(a) A radio or television program conducted by the institution's coach;

(b) A program in which the institution's coach is participating; or

(c) A program for which a member of the institution's athletics staff has been instrumental in arranging for the appearance of the prospective student-athlete or coach or related program material."

A&M certainly won't like that Brown mentioned 2012 Texas commits Jonathan Gray and Connor Brewer by name during the same interview. That might have been an NCAA violation. School representatives are prohibited by the NCAA from mentioning recruits by name until they sign letters of intent.

That doesn't necessarily push A&M toward the SEC, but it sure as heck doesn't create unity in the Big 12.

"After last year, and the way in which it unfolded, prompted me to say we're really comfortable [with 12 teams] unless there's a paradigm shift," Slive said. "Now things have settled down. At the same time, one of my responsibilities is to do what's in the long-term best interests of the SEC."

Meanwhile, Texas is awaiting the NCAA's interpretation. The state's high school sports organization (UIL) prohibits televising live games on Friday nights because of attendance concerns. However, the network plans to televise games on Thursday and Saturday, and perhaps show Friday games on a tape-delayed basis.

It's all meant to drive potential cable subscribers to order TLN. Some Big 12 officials are upset that the network will also include an undetermined conference game. In essence, a Big 12 member will be helping drive viewers to TLN.

"High school football is an incredibly important part of life in Texas," said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president, college sports programming. "To the point that it affects the lives of people in the state. We think this is important."

Will Texas schoolboy football fly on Texas' own network? Dodds and Magnus stressed that obviously everyone will abide by the NCAA's decision. There is language in the network contract to add high school games "if possible."

"If we can't do it, we can't do it," Dodds said.

But is that enough for A&M?

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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