Senior Writer

Foes' grumbling won't force Big 12 hammer from Texas' hands


DALLAS -- The Big 12 message was solidarity at its media days' kickoff. But once you got past the corporate buzz words -- "branding initiative"? -- the high-roller event planner, the cheerleaders and the cheerleaders' spirit coordinator, the real message leaked through.

Make that real, old message: We're Texas and we're going to do whatever the hell we want.

What exactly has changed in the new Big 12? Not much if you consider that even the chicken, as someone tweeted at lunch, was burnt orange. Power and influence have just taken different forms in this Large Dozen (minus two). That being, just how much influence the Longhorn Network will have when it debuts Aug. 26.

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The possibilities are quickly becoming the subject du jour for every major college AD in the country. The NCAA is so flustered about the network's intention to televise Texas high school games with Texas recruits in them that it called a summit next month to discuss the issue.

How big is the issue? It is taking the NCAA considerably longer to decide whether Texas can show high school games than it took for it to decide the Buckeye Five could play in the Sugar Bowl. And folks thought that was unfair.

If Texas is allowed to proceed, then why not Notre Dame, which also has its own network partner, or the Pac-12 or BYU? And where does the monetizing -- another corporate buzzword -- of high school athletes end? When are they going to want a cut?

New questions, same uncertain mood hanging over the conference that still counts Nebraska and Colorado in its name, if not its membership.

"To me, there's just no common sense there," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, just getting warmed up. "That can't happen. Are you kidding me? That's my observation. ... You want a degree of fairness in any league."

Things have never been fair in the Big 12. It was a cultural and geographical mashup that was a forced marriage from the beginning. Ask Nebraska -- you can find the Huskers in the Big Ten these days -- which saw its power from the old Big Eight diminish the moment Texas walked in the room 16 years ago.

Or ask Pinkel now. The Tigers coach has spent more than a decade leading the program to one of the high points in its history by recruiting heavily in Texas. That makes him no different that dozens of coaches across the country. He doesn't want a nationally televised high school game of (state of) Texas recruits on Texas' own network to marginalize that decade-long effort.

What separated him Monday that he was willing to call B.S. on TLN.

"You want to get in and do what's right for the Big 12 ... ," Pinkel said. "If you don't want to do that, you become an independent."

That's what many think will be the end game for Texas. Texas A&M and Oklahoma will become so upset at the nation's No. 1 school in athletic revenue making another power grab, that they will bolt for the SEC. That will cause the Armageddon scenario that was avoided last year.

Missouri, then, better be careful what it wishes for. In that scenario, it would be cast adrift with the likes of Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, hoping for a lifeline from some geographically undesirable league. One high-ranking network executive said this last week at the SEC media days: Those other Big 12 teams do understand why their league exists today, don’t they?

Gary Pinkel's objections could help stop TLN from broadcasting prep games, but it won't lessen Texas' influence in the Big 12. (US Presswire)  
Gary Pinkel's objections could help stop TLN from broadcasting prep games, but it won't lessen Texas' influence in the Big 12. (US Presswire)  
One thing for sure: The Longhorns are going to end up smelling like that yellow rose of Texas. They always do.

"I don't think that part will have any effect on recruiting at all. ... The people that would be hurt if you don't show high school games will be the high school coach and the players who 99 percent will not even play college football," Mack Brown said. "So if you think about it, there would be a lot more prospects from the other teams in the Big 12 on the network than the ones from Texas."

That's one way to look at it. There were others. Yahoo! Sports reported that Texas A&M administrators kept coach Mike Sherman from doing interviews with TLN. The Aggies administration has been a vocal critic of Texas' perceived recruiting advantage with TLN.

"I think it sends us down a slope," Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard said. "Look at what happened in basketball. We don't need that to get any worse."

The NCAA long ago lost control of high school basketball recruiting. It is trying to hold onto what's left of the integrity of football recruiting.

All parties are on board as agreeing to whatever the NCAA decides. The problem is this issue is looking more and more like the Cecil Newton dilemma. There was no NCAA bylaw to govern a parent pimping his son for money he never received. Similarly, there is no bylaw to govern a university pimping high school teenagers for ratings on its own network.

All parties are also heading into a bunker. Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne sent out a tersely worded statement regarding TLN last week. On Monday, he pointed toward an Aug. 1 meeting among the league ADs.

"I caught about 36 salmon," Byrne said upon his return from an Alaska vacation, "and the one thing I learned from them if they keep their mouth shut, they don't get hurt."

ESPN doesn't want to harm to Texas, which is trying to piss off the Big 12, which is looking for guidance from the NCAA. But if Texas wanted to drop the subject, it could right now. Texas-branded high school football is a new frontier for ESPN, and possibly the others with network futures -- BYU, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

It's a new world that is being played out in public, on the airwaves and in Texas' profit margin.

"In this day and age, families don't get to work through their issues without the neighbors knowing about it first," Pollard said.

That's why the Big 12 went big time, hiring that event planner that had done Super Bowl parties. Commissioner Dan Beebe took the stage a reception to the strains of the The Natural to announce the conference's new slogan: How We Play.

A sentence fragment for a fragmented conference. Perfect.

"You can feel that camaraderie," said Tracey Wittwer, spirit coordinator for those cheerleader hostesses.

Yeah, but for how long?

"When the meeting is over," she said, probably not quite grasping the significance.

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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