AUSTIN, Texas -- College football analyst Craig James has been granted time away from ESPN while he considers running for the U.S. Senate in Texas, ESPN said Friday.
James requested that he not work his scheduled bowl game on Tuesday so he can concentrate on his decision, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz told the Associated Press. The news fuels speculation that he is close to entering the Republican primary already crowded with candidates who have spent months raising money and gathering endorsements. James would be running for the 2012 Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.
A message left with James was not immediately returned. The deadline to file as a candidate is Monday.
James, who appears on weekly game broadcasts for ESPN, was a star tailback at Southern Methodist University from 1979-1982 and later played for the New England Patriots of the NFL. He was recently embroiled in Texas Tech University's decision to fire popular football coach Mike Leach in 2009 over allegations the coach mistreated James' son, a Red Raiders player, after he sustained a concussion.
James, 50, has been flirting with entering politics for more than a year. He has been a board member of the influential Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, and recently founded Texans for a Better America to promote conservative policies
Other candidates include Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz.
James, who lives in Celina, north of Dallas, would likely be banking on name recognition from his work for ESPN and his ties to big-time college football in Texas to overcome his late start.
That name recognition could also prove to be a disadvantage for James.
Texas Tech fired Leach, the winningest coach in school history, after James complained to school administrators that Leach mistreated Adam James by twice ordering him to stand for hours confined in a dark place during practice after he got a concussion.
Leach denies mistreating the younger James and has said Craig James had called coaches trying to get his son more playing time. Leach also said he suspects an $800,000 bonus he was due on Dec. 31, 2009, was the reason he was fired.
Leach sued the university and named Craig James as a defendant. The case is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.
At SMU, James was a major part of the record-setting "Pony Express" backfield with Eric Dickerson. The Mustangs won Southwest Conference championships in 1981 and 1982 but also were embroiled in several NCAA investigations.
In 1987, the NCAA hit SMU with the so-called "death penalty," shutting down the program for a year after finding SMU had continued to pay players after promising in 1985 it would stop. SMU also chose not to play football in 1988.
James was never directly implicated in the NCAA transgressions and he has consistently denied any involvement.
After college, James was drafted by the Washington Federals in the USFL and signed with the Patriots before the 1985 season. He retired from football in 1989.
As a businessman, James has been involved in ventures providing video content for the Internet as well as real estate holdings and development, according to the Texans for a Better America website.