Posted on: August 26, 2011 7:00 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 7:05 pm

NCAA is watching The Longhorn Network. Closely.

Posted by Bryan Fischer

The controversal Longhorn Network launches Friday at 6 p.m. central time but before taking the air (to only a handful of minor cable operators) the NCAA wanted to deliver a message to ESPN and Texas about their joint venture before flipping the switch: We're watching you. Very, very closely.

The NCAA is monitoring content on the Longhorn Network and its news coverage of high school sports. With respect to NCAA bylaws as the Association has continued to review the issue, acceptable content is limited to scores, statistics, standings and news video used to report those details. 

We will continue to monitor the Longhorn Network to determine if the content is produced within those guidelines.

After being denied the chance to televise high school games, network executives later announced they would instead limit programming to highlights of selected games. This, ESPN has argued, is allowable because they are news and don't fall under the broad definition of high school programming. Seems like the NCAA is making sure all parties realize there are some limits to this however.

So for now the NCAA is sitting back in their recliners and watching an All-Access look into Mack Brown's program and the latest news about the Longhorn swim team, keeping an eye out for programming that goes beyond the lines.

Illustration by Tom Fornelli

Posted on: August 11, 2011 12:04 pm
Edited on: August 11, 2011 8:30 pm

Reasons Aggies want to move to the SEC runs deep

Posted by Bryan Fischer

There's no place in the country like Texas A&M.

If you haven't had a chance to go to Midnight Yell or be in the stands at Kyle Field when they sway back and forth when the War Hymn is played, you should quickly add it to your bucket list.

The Aggies, excuse me, the Fightin' Texas Aggies, are a different kind of fan too. Really a different kind of person. Tradition is about more than dunking your ring upon graduation or saying 'Howdy,' it's part of the fabric of A&M fans' everyday lives.

Growing up in Dallas, I went to plenty of A&M, Texas and Oklahoma games. As much as the fans of the other two teams liked their schools, they never loved their team like the Aggies. Through thick and thin they were still the Fighting Farmers.

The demographics and culture in College Station have shifted over the past few years. Fewer kids from the country and more from the cities. Less of a focus on the agricultural and mechanical and more of a focus on the business school. But no matter what, they all believe in the school the same.

Now Texas A&M fans are unsure of the future and they're upset. They're mad at Texas. They're mad at commissioner Dan Beebe. They're mad at the Big 12. Frankly, they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

The uneasy truce that was drawn up last summer after Larry Scott came looking to build his superconference is in shambles. The Longhorn Network is the straw that broke the camel's back but really it was the lack of stability in the Big 12 that is the driving force. Even if the NCAA denied the network of their ability to televise high school games, that wouldn't calm the uneasiness A&M has about Texas being in bed with ESPN and in a prime position to join the ranks of the independent.

The hard reality though, is that the University of Texas is the university of Texas. Texas A&M's entire athletic department budget in 2010 was $66.8 million. Texas' PROFIT from football alone was $68 million last year. The Aggies lost money in 2008 and 2009. The rumors of going to the SEC is not about high school games or money, it's about the gap between the two schools widening even further.

In the state of Texas - and in the eyes of most nationally - the Aggies are, and almost always have been, second class citizens in the state they love so dear. The move to the best conference in college football is their trump card. Their chance to shine and - at least in their minds - become peers and not Texas' little brother.

They better learn that they'll have to take their lumps with a move though. Prior to last season, the Aggies best record in the previous 11 years was 9-4. They were embarrassed by Oklahoma to the tune of 77-0 in 2003. Texas A&M has only won one bowl game since joining the Big 12 and has only one league title to their name.

Now they want tougher competition. By moving East they'll face conference opponents that have won 81 percent of their non-conference games of their games the past five years and, oh yeah, five straight national titles.

One fan tweeted me on Wednesday, "If you do understand than you would know this move is not for athletic success. Its bout the cash and the EQUALITY of the SEC."

First of all, if A&M goes to the SEC, they'll have to pay an exit fee of a good chunk of their television revenue in 2011 AND be phased into a full revenue share in their future league. Remember, this is an athletic department that was struggling to pay the bills (the school's endowment has plenty in the bank however). Second, you would not be equals in the mighty Southeastern Conference. You are the new kid on the block and you're closer to Ole Miss and Arkansas than Alabama and Florida. All conferences are not created equal.

Many will point to the fact that the program can get better recruits by selling the fact that they'll be able to play in the best conference. That will win over some.

"The conference really put them over the top," Van (Texas) linebacker Dalton Santos told Volquest.com as to why he picked Tennessee over Texas A&M. "Being able to do things in the SEC will show I can play anywhere."

What some fail to keep in mind however, is that the Longhorns will almost always have the pick of the litter in-state. Sure you can win over one or two elite players. Talent development is always been a strength in College Station and better players certainly never hurt but it's not going to shift the balance of power in the recruiting game as much as many think (or hope).

There is also the notion that grabbing Texas A&M is appealing to the SEC because it opens Texas to the league. That is obscuring the obvious: it's already open. Remember Alabama won a national championship with a quarterback from the Dallas area. When they failed to land the top in-state signal-caller Jameis Winston, they picked up a commitment from a Dallas area quarterback less than 48 hours later. If a head coach of an SEC school wants a player in Texas, they typically don't have many doors closed on them, if any.

It remains to be seen how it all will work but at the moment but it's clear there is mutual interest in making the move, should there be a shift in the college landscape. Beebe said he was taking the threat of the school leaving very seriously and Texas governor Rick Perry, an Aggie alum, confirmed to the Dallas Morning News that 'conversations are being had' on making the move.

“I’ll put it this way, I’m taking it very seriously," Beebe told The Austin-American Statesman. "I’ve been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction."

Sources told the Statesman and the Morning News that the Big 12 would continue to operate as a nine-team league if Texas A&M left. The school's offer to join the SEC has not been formally made however. As Mike Slive said at SEC Media Days a few weeks ago, he could expand the league to 16 teams "in 15 minutes." but it remains to be seen if he's willing to move on expansion at the moment. The league will add a member only if and when Slive and the SEC presidents want, the timetable is not up to the Aggies.

A source at Texas A&M said the school won't tap the breaks on the rumors until all options have been explored. The school is still mulling creating or partnering on their own network and it just so happens that the head of Fox Sports Southwest is an Aggie alum and booster. Yet many in the administration feel the stability the SEC offers is the biggest reason why the school is ultimately "forced" east.

Let's face it, it looks more likely to happen than not at this point. Culture-wise, they probably fit in well when you consider their other programs, such as baseball, and passionate fan base for all things Aggie.

When I called my father last night, an A&M alum himself, he was mostly upset over the Longhorn Network's unfair advantage. My mother, having lived through the Southwest Conference until the end, thought the whole move was a crazy reaction however.

"They're cutting off their nose to spite their face," she said.

Just like any motherly advice, she was right.

A&M thinks they've got a trump card for their rival. They better be careful what they're wishing for or the Aggies might be the ones being trumped.

Posted on: August 8, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: August 8, 2011 12:01 pm

Longhorn Network contract emerges

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Longhorn Network has caused a lot of problems within the Big 12 since its inception in January. Sure, the Big 12 secured a pretty good television deal for itself, but since the members of the conference have seen what Texas plans to do with its network, the relationship amongst the Big 12 schools has been tenuous at best.

The one sticking point that seemed to cause the most attention was the Longhorn Network's plan to televise high school games, a plan that has been tabled for a year, but has been anything but resolved. Well, thanks to The Midnight Yell, the full contract between Texas and ESPN has emerged, and there's a bit more in the deal that could be problematic for the Big 12.

Here are some highlights of the deal:

- ESPN has exclusive negotiating rights with Texas should the school no longer be a member of the Big 12. "In the event that UT determines not to participate in any athletics conference in one or more sports, UT agrees to provide ESPN a right of first negotiation of 60 days with respect to its television telecast rights.." ESPN also has 48 hours to match any offer Texas may get from somewhere else.

In other words, if the Big 12 does dissolve, Texas can still have its own network as an independent. It's also possible that Texas can just go independent in football and remain in the Big 12 for other sports.

- Texas will get about $11,000,000 a year from the network. And that number will increase by 3% annually until ESPN gets its money back from the original investment, at which point Texas' revenues from the network will rise significantly.

- If the Big 12 created its own network, Texas couldn't be a part of it.  "Neither IMG nor UT will during the Term and within the Territory i. participate in or permit the development of another "Longhorns Network" or similar network enterprise (regardless of name) related to UT" The terms of the deal are for 20 years, and the territory referred to his Texas. So if the Big 12 wants its own network and would want to feature Texas games, it's going to have to wait until 2031 to do so.

- ESPN will try to get rights to Texas high school state championship games. Obviously, this is part of the high school games deal that the Big 12 has decided to ignore for a year, but the contract states that ESPN agrees to try and get the rights for these games. Whether it will ever be allowed by the NCAA remains to be seen, but it's obvious that the Longhorn Network would love to televise these games.

Now, if you go over the contract in its entirety, a lot of what Texas wants to do makes sense. These are good business decisions for the school, and Texas has always been a school that knows how to get money out of its athletic department. Still, when going over the deal and looking at it from the perspective of another Big 12 school, it's easy to see why schools like Texas A&M aren't exactly thrilled with it.

It's essentially a lot of words and numbers that can be paraphrased with "We're Texas, and we're more important than the rest of you."
Posted on: July 21, 2011 8:38 am
Edited on: July 21, 2011 8:56 am

Big 12 hits pause on Longhorn Network's HS plans

Posted by Chip Patterson

As soon as the general public got wind of the Longhorn Network's plan to televise high school games, red flags went up across the nation. CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd mentioned that ESPN VP Dave Brown may have committed an NCAA violation by mentioning the names of two 2012 Texas commits in a June radio interview. The network has already asked the NCAA for guidelines on televising high school football games, but the weakened Big 12 conference wants to make sure the network has the league's best interests in mind as well.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary hold on the telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network. Both the NCAA and Big 12 still need to make decisions on how the pending high school football media deal should be handled.

"It's not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none," Beebe told the Dallas Morning News. "It's fair to say what [ESPN VP Dave Brown] said publicly is why we're having conversations about this new world and what the parameters are."

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has stated that the university is ready to cooperate and wants to play by the rules in regards to the new network, and pledged his allegiance to the conference.

The recent developments with the network have re-started the rumors of Texas' rivals looking to leave the conference. Texas A&M's board of regents reportedly will hold a closed door meeting at the end of this week to discuss the new network, and wild (but concerning) rumors have swirled about Oklahoma considering a departure as well. The potential in-state recruiting advantage provided by airing high school football games on the network would be huge for the Longhorns, particularly if the game selection focused on the verbal commits and/or the highest profile recruits.

Posted on: July 20, 2011 12:23 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 12:39 pm

Can the SEC renegotiate its TV contract or not?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The SEC's feeling pretty good about itself these days, and you don't even need to see the league's impressively unsubtle media guide cover (or equally to-the-point Media Days T-shirt) to know it. When you're in the middle of a streak of five-straight national titles, distributing record amounts of revenue to your member schools, watching your most prominent critic scramble in the wake of the Ohio State scandal, and just generally becoming more and more college football's resident 500-pound gorilla, a little bit of chest-puffing is going to come naturally.

In fact (assuming the continuing NCAA investigation into Cam Newton's eligibilty doesn't gain any more traction), there's really only one black lining to the SEC's giant silver cloud: its television contracts.

Yes, the same contracts primarily responsible for all that record-breaking revenue. The money they're generating today isn't a problem; it's the money they'll generate in the year 2023 that might be, when the 15-year deals the SEC signed with CBS and ESPN in 2009 will still be in effect.

As the even-more-lucrative deal signed by the Pac-12 this year illustrates -- a deal that still allows Larry Scott's league the right to start its own network, an option the ESPN-locked SEC doesn't have -- by the time 2015 or 2016 rolls around, the SEC will be being paid far less than market value for its product ... to say nothing of the start of the next decade. That the Big Ten's and Pac-12's conference networks promise to produce exponentially increasing revenue during the life of the SEC's (finanically static) contract must make the situation even more uncomfortable for Mike Slive.

Which is why he addressed the topic head-on in yesterday's chat with the Associated Press, promising that his conference would not be simply twiddling its televised thumbs for 13 more years (emphasis added):
"Obviously when we did our deal we set the pace, and in our contract we have a concept called look-ins," Slive said. "At periodic points during the life of the contract, we can sit down with ESPN and take a look-in and look at the status of television, technology, all aspects of television, and at that point make adjustments that the parties agree are appropriate to make sure that everything that we intended to achieve with the contracts would in fact be available to us."
Are we wrong in thinking this is Slive's veiled attempt at asserting that, yes, they will be asking ESPN for more money? That once that "status of television" has changed, the "look-in" will give him the opportunity to renegotiate the deal?

We don't think so. And if that's Slive's intent, it could make for some very interesting discussion at these "look-ins." Because when asked to comment on the SEC's contract in June, ESPN official Burke Magnus didn't sound particularly open to altering the basic terms of the contract (emphasis added):
"We knew when we made a 15-year deal that time was not going to stand still so we purposely built in these look-ins," Magnus said. "They don't reopen the deal. There's no outs. It's an opportunity for both of us to really take stock of where we are and see what we could be doing better."
There's a lot of wiggle room in both of these statements, of course, even before we account for the possible game-changer that would be SEC expansion. Slive could simply be referring to digital distribution or kickoff times on ESPN2 or any of a dozen other things. Magnus could simply be indicating that the SEC won't be jumping to another network, not ruling out his network giving the SEC a raise. But the plainest reading, we think, is that Slive is going to want some fundamental monetary change to the contract ... and that ESPN may dig in its heels against "reopening the deal."

As SEC Media Days begins today, Slive will have plenty to celebrate. But until he secures the same financial footing for his league that the Big Ten and Pac-12 enjoy -- not just today, but for the future -- he'll still have one major question hanging over his tenure. Here's to hoping SEC Media Days gives us something approximating an answer to it.

Posted on: July 19, 2011 9:18 am
Edited on: July 19, 2011 9:21 am

OU, Texas A&M responding to the Longhorn Network

Posted by Chip Patterson

College football has become a big money business, and most of that money is coming from lucrative media contracts. As we prepare for the 2011 football season, we are on the verge of a historic college sports media venture with the premiere of the Longhorn Network. The network will present an all-access focus on Texas athletics unlike any major media venture before. In the soon-to-be 10-team Big 12 conference, the competitors have taken notice.

The College Station Bureau reported Monday night that Texas A&M has added a closed-door session to their regularly scheduled regents meeting this week regarding Texas' multi-million dollar network. The sources cited in the report said the session would be "informational only" and the Aggie decision makers will simply be given the latest from lawyers on the network.

The topic has come up for Red River rival Oklahoma as well. Athletic director Joe Castiglione told local media on Monday that progress is being made for a Longhorn-style network for the Sooners.

"We have had a great amount of interest in the prospects of a network here," Castiglione said. We are interacting with a variety of different media companies and we know that we will have potentially a different model than the one that people keep hearing about in regards to the one at the University of Texas."

Castiglione went on to turn the focus on the "digital revolution," reminding the Sooner faithful of the "frontier spirit" in Oklahoma. Oklahoma already boasts a powerful broadband and mobile network, and plans to stream 30 to 50 live events in the coming year.

While the comments seemed a little defensive on the first read, I think that Castiglione has the right idea with making progress towards the full multimedia experience rather than make a hasty push towards the television network. Sure, the power of the Longhorn Network and its ability to reach a mass audience greatly overpowers Oklahoma's current broadband setup, but as mobile video becomes more and more popular it will become a necessary piece of sports media providers.
Posted on: July 15, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 10:19 pm

ESPN: Bruce Feldman resumes normal assignments

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Well, that suspension levied on Bruce Feldman for co-authoring Mike Leach's book, Swing Your Sword, didn't last long. In fact, if you ask ESPN, it didn't happen at all. ESPN announced in a statement this afternoon that Feldman had been returned to his normal duties with the company, ending a 20-hour controversy over Feldman's treatment and involvement with the book. Here's ESPN's statement in full:

"There was never any suspension or any other form of disciplinary action. We took the time to review his upcoming work assignments in light of the book to which he contributed and will manage any conflicts or other issues as needed.   Bruce has resumed his assignments."

Now, the notion that Feldman was never under any disciplinary action, frankly, strains credulity. Again, it took 20 hours for ESPN to address this issue, and it's one that could have been resolved in, well, minutes. Further, the idea that Feldman wasn't suspended is apparently news to Mike Leach, who excoriated ESPN on the radio this morning, saying ESPN "isn't going to let little inconvenient details like the facts get in the way of their agenda."

Moreover, the suspension was all but confirmed by Craig James, who expressed surprise on Twitter about the news this morning -- something that SB Nation's Spencer Hall believed to be true in this editorial, which is a little too scathing and scattershot to be of merit here.

With that, then, this issue is effectively settled unless one of the parties feels the need to bring it up again; that seems unlikely. As mentioned before, suspensions almost always degrade a product, especially since Feldman was hardly a limiting agent for ESPN Insider, so ESPN is now better off for having reinstated (or whatever they want to call it) Feldman, so let's leave things like that and move on to more important things. Like video game football.

Posted on: July 15, 2011 3:11 am
Edited on: July 20, 2011 10:20 pm

Report: Feldman suspended for role in Leach book

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Mike Leach's new book, Swing Your Sword, was released Thursday, and Leach's co-author on the book was famed scribe Bruce Feldman (The Meat Market, 'Cane Mutiny). Small problem: Feldman also writes for ESPN.com's Insider section, and that may prove to be something of an issue when Leach's book contains a litany of complaints against ESPN on-air personality Craig James for his role in getting Leach fired from Texas Tech.

And yet, according to reports, Feldman was given the green light to proceed with the book, and he never engaged in any promotion for the book before or after its release. Non-issue, then, right? Well, wait:

ESPN college football writer Bruce Feldman was suspended indefinitely during a conference call with three ESPN officials this morning.

[They] informed Feldman today that he has been banned from writing for any ESPN entity, is forbidden from appearing on any ESPN platform, is not allowed to Tweet from his Twitter account nor participate in any promotion of a recently-released book in which Feldman played a role.

Such is the report from Sports by Brooks, anyway, and thus far there's been nothing to indicate the report isn't accurate. Feldman, who's normally a fairly active tweeter, has been silent since Wednesday on his ESPN-branded Twitter account @BFeldmanESPN, and no other ESPN personalities are commenting on the matter.

Just about everybody else in the world is commenting, however, and "Bruce Feldman" became a trending topic fairly quickly Thursday night on Twitter. Twitterers made use of the #freebruce hashtag early and often, especially after Sports Illustrated writer Andy Staples canceled his ESPN Insider subscription in protest:

Now, since ESPN hasn't released its side of this story yet, and since all we're working on is one report from one media outlet, it would be premature and assumptive to rake ESPN over the coals for this decision at this point. All reports indicate that Feldman was given the go-ahead to help write this book before the ugliness between ESPN and Leach. So if there was some amendment (whether explicit or tacit) to the arrangement after ESPN became directly involved, obviously, that would be relevant information that hasn't been released yet. We're all operating with limited information, and rather than build 1,500-word arguments based on assumptions that could be disproved by a single PR release before sunrise Friday, it's probably best to wait and learn more from the parties involved.

That all said, it's worth noting that, generally speaking, suspensions from organizations (whether sporting, media or otherwise) rarely improve the product being put out. Dez Bryant getting banned by the NCAA for the rest of his senior season didn't make Oklahoma State or the Big 12 any better or more entertaining, for example, to say nothing of what the NCAA lost when it wouldn't let Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett or USC WR Mike Williams get drafted or come back and play after their second seasons out of high school in 2004. Rules are rules, but taking talent off the field makes what happens on the field worse.

Obviously, that's not to say that all suspensions or other disciplinary actions are inherently bad -- discipline is important, and to keep the examples in college football, nobody would argue that Lawrence Phillips didn't spend enough time off the Nebraska squad after his domestic assault charge during the 1995 season. So yes, clearly, suspensions or firings/dismissals serve a well-needed purpose.

Yet, based on what we know now, Feldman didn't do anything wrong. He helped write a book that a whole lot of people really wanted to see written, and it wasn't even that one about ESPN itself that so many past and present ESPN employees gave testimony for -- under their own names, no less.

No, instead, ESPN is apparently degrading its PR standing (to say nothing of its paid Insider product, to which Feldman actually contributes) in order to punish Feldman and push this notion of ESPN as a faultless company that virtually zero of its consumers actually believe. It's extremely difficult to find a benefit to the company itself in this decision. The product is worse. The public perception is worse. The journalistic freedom within is now demonstrably worse. Exactly what is ESPN trying to accomplish here?

The appearance is that Craig James used his position at ESPN to force enough public pressure on Leach to be ousted from Texas Tech, and is now using his position within ESPN to force Feldman from the ranks at Bristol. If either is inaccurate and James would like to see Leach or Feldman restored to their previous statuses, by all means, we'd be glad to document such a statement. If not, it's hard not to think that ESPN is being used as a bully pulpit, and if that means a college football world without heavy involvement from Leach and Feldman, then college football is worse off for it, and that's no role for ESPN or any other major college football media organization to hold.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com