National Columnist

Television drama could leave Texas with a lot of exes


I'm finding it difficult to get a good grasp on the Longhorn Network as it relates to the Big 12 Conference. I mean, some things are clear enough. The arranged marriage between that network and that conference -- like the marriage between the University of Texas and the Big 12 -- won't end well.

Half of all marriages end in divorce, you know, and this particular marriage was forged out of desperation, with 11 stepchildren and a $300 million prenup. Doomed, I tell you. Doomed.

Otherwise, I'm having a hard time getting a grasp on the whole situation, which evolves by the day but slipped into the gutter last week thanks to some public miscues by ESPN -- which will pay Texas and Texas' marketing partners $300 million over 20 years to operate the Longhorn Network.

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In the best of circumstances, that's a curious business deal for ESPN, but these aren't the best of circumstances. Last month, an ESPN executive went on the radio in Austin, Texas, and blathered on about the Longhorn Network's plan to show high school football games in the state of Texas, and not just any high school football games -- games involving players recruited by Texas.

At best, that would be an insurmountable recruiting advantage for Texas. At worst, it would be against NCAA rules, since schools are forbidden from even discussing a recruit publicly -- and in theory would be forbidden from televising a recruit's games on the school's state-wide network.

That whole scenario was bad for ESPN and the Longhorn Network, but then ESPN made it worse when it issued a press release a few weeks ago announcing that the Longhorn Network would telecast one Texas conference game each year. The rest of the Big 12 freaked for two reasons. It would be galling for, say, Texas Tech to have one of its games shown to its loyal fan base on something called the Longhorn Network. And, two, it wasn't even true. The Longhorn Network didn't have a deal to show a conference football game. It was hoping to have a deal, yes, but it didn't have one yet. And now, thanks to ESPN's premature pontification, it probably won't. Just like it won't be able to show high school football games. Thanks to ESPN.

Job well done by the entertainment and sports leader, but I digress.

And also, I confess:

I don't know what to make of the hubbub surrounding the Longhorn Network, which will debut next month. The whole thing is hard to grasp, slippery like an eel and just as smelly.

The Big 12 is pointing crooked little fingers at itself, everyone mad at everyone else because of the $300 million Longhorn Network. Texas A&M and Oklahoma are mad at Texas because, near as I can tell, the Longhorns have their own network -- and the Aggies and Sooners don't. Texas isn't pleased with Texas A&M and Oklahoma, either, after those schools freaked out over the ESPN radio comments and foiled, for now, the Longhorn Network's plan to show potential Longhorn recruits' high school football games.

Everyone else in the Big 12 is mad, or scared, that this latest tremor could be the big one that breaks apart the league.

Me, I'm confused. Or torn. Because I don't know who to laugh at first.

Texas A&M, chief detractor of the Longhorn Network, secured a bigger take of Big 12 money after an alleged SEC dalliance. (US Presswire)  
Texas A&M, chief detractor of the Longhorn Network, secured a bigger take of Big 12 money after an alleged SEC dalliance. (US Presswire)  
I guess I'll start with Texas A&M and its comical level of hypocrisy. The Aggies' president, R. Bowen Loftin, issued a condescendingly dense statement that could come only from a school president, one who wears a bowtie and uses a first initial for a first name. (What is it with these guys?) Loftin said the Longhorn Network would tip the scales of fairness toward Texas.

"If we have an unequal playing field for various schools, that we think is a problem," Loftin said. "That creates uncertainty."

That statement creates irony, seeing how Texas A&M was more than happy to create an unequal playing field -- in its favor -- last summer when it flirted with the SEC before deciding to stay in the Big 12 as long as it received more TV revenue than 70 percent of its league partners. That's a true story, you know. The Aggies, like Texas and Oklahoma, will receive $20 million a year from the conference's television contract with Fox while the rest of the league (Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Baylor) gets something between $14 million and $17 million each.

Additionally, Texas A&M received -- along with Oklahoma and Texas -- the blood money paid to the Big 12 by Nebraska and Colorado when those schools left for other leagues. Most of the remaining seven schools agreed to give "the big three" their take of the roughly $20 million in buyout fees paid by Nebraska for going to the Big Ten and by Colorado for going to the Pac-10.

In sum, an unlevel playing field is fine when it benefits Texas A&M but not fine when it benefits someone else. Thanks for the tip, R. Bowen.

Can you believe that guy?

And can you believe Oklahoma? That school is now thrashing about for its own network, checking to see if there is enough interest for a Sooner Network, which is what I'm sure the school would call it. Whatever Texas can do, Oklahoma can do, too! Oklahoma can also get more annual TV revenue than 70 percent of its conference partners, and Oklahoma can also get more buyout money from Nebraska and Colorado than 70 percent of its conference partners.

Oklahoma can also be as unfair as Texas A&M, is my point.

As for the rest of the Big 12, I feel bad for you folks. You're stuck in a bad marriage, but terrified to leave it. So you stay, miserable and mistreated. My sympathies.

And as for Texas ...

Despicable. The Longhorns are simply despicable. They've earned their power and popularity over the years much like Prince William has "earned" his exalted place in the world. The Longhorns were born into the right family -- the flagship university in the largest state in the Lower 48 -- and have parlayed that fortunate twist of fate into athletic dominance.

But now the Longhorns are abusing their power -- using their popularity as the richest, best-looking kid in the class to bully everyone else. By forming the Longhorn Network, Texas goes out on its own for additional revenue and recruiting edges, and I don't mean showing high school games. When the Longhorn Network shows the school's spring football game around the state, or segments of fall practice, or press conferences with players or highlight packages or pep rallies or non-stop infomercials or ... well, you get the point, right? Once it gets rolling, the Longhorn Network will win recruits that might have gone elsewhere. Obviously.

So Texas has gone out on its own for more power and popularity, but will also stay in the Big 12 for the security. Texas is an independent in some ways -- ways available only to Texas -- and a conference member in others. Only a self-delusional Texas fan would suggest it's fair.

It's not fair, but it's the Big 12 -- also known as the Longhorn Network.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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