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July 21, 2011

Latest on the Longhorn Network

LATEST FROM A&M REGENTS MEETING: I was just told by a source locked in at the highest level of Texas A&M that the regents meeting on Thursday which included discussion of the Big 12, Texas and the Longhorn Network "was not as heated as you might think."

I was basically told that the A&M regents are not at the point of no return on this situation - not even close.

So for fans of the Big 12 as it is currently constructed, that's probably good news.

It doesn't sound like A&M is actively seeking a dialogue with the SEC at this time.

Stay tuned.

BEEBE ISSUES STATEMENT: Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe took a more definitive step Thursday in addressing the concerns of Big 12 members about Texas' Longhorn Network by releasing the following statement:

"The Conference members are committed to working together to address issues in a manner that benefits all members," Beebe said. "There are elements of our new television agreement, which take effect in 2012, that need clarification and the members will be working together to develop a process that will work to the benefit of the entire Conference.

"Until the members have a chance to consider all the issues and come to conclusion about how the Conference will manage the interplay between the Conference television package and institutional networks, no more than one live football game will be televised on any institutional network and no high school content will be televised on a branded member's network."

BIG 12 COMRADES CONCERNED: In my calls around the Big 12 today, everyone was sort of saying what Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said in a statement.

There was a feeling that ESPN and Texas were moving at breakneck pace to get high school football games on the air as well as add as many Big 12 games to LHN as possible.

(Texas is now trying to reach out to Big 12 schools by saying the Longhorns would be willing to share more of its revenue from ESPN with a school willing to put a game on LHN even if it's a home game for that school.

REACHING OUT: Let's take the Texas-Iowa State game on Oct. 1 for example. Texas would share some of its revenue with the Cyclones if Iowa State was willing to have that game in Ames on LHN.

This is the last year that every single Big 12 game won't be on television. Starting next season, the Fox and ABC/ESPN contracts will ensure that every Big 12 football game is on the air. But not this year. There will still be some games that are dark.

Texas would like those games to end up on LHN. But right now, high school games and a second Big 12 football game airing on LHN are on hold until the rest of the Big 12 feels like it has a handle on what Texas and ESPN are doing with LHN.)

BILL BYRNE HAS A THOUGHT: Here's what Bill Byrne said if you missed it:

"I have continued to have concerns about the Longhorn Network since the original announcement by ESPN and Texas," Byrne said. "Since last summer, the Big 12 member institutions have committed to work together in a spirit of unity and equality. Recent news reports concerning this network; however, have created a considerable amount of uncertainty.

"We had an agreement in place that Big 12 members would have the right to one non-conference football game and four to six basketball games for third tier, or institutional rights. The concept of the Longhorn Network broadcasting two live football games -- with one of these being a conference game -- had not been discussed among the Big 12 athletic directors.

"Our concerns were heightened further when news reports surfaced that the Longhorn Network would be broadcasting high school football games featuring Texas high school recruits, including recruits living outside the state of Texas. Knowing how restrictive NCAA rules are regarding any collegiate representative contacting prospects, we contacted the NCAA for an interpretation. We are still waiting for the NCAA's response."

"I have continued to communicate our concerns to the conference office and my fellow athletic directors. We are pleased that the Commissioner has started to address these concerns, but many questions remain. These are significant issues for all of collegiate athletics as they relate to broadcast rights, revenue distribution and the recruitment of student-athletes."

WHAT'S NCAA WAITING FOR? So that you know the point of view of the rest of the conference, some members, like A&M, are surprised they couldn't get the NCAA to weigh in on the airing of high school games by a network affilated with one university until now. Beebe told me Wednesday the NCAA will appoint a committee in August to study the issue. Holy frozen molasses Batman.

The other big issue with the Big 12 schools was the second football game on LHN. ABC/ESPN negotiated that ability with Fox and didn't do a good enough job explaining it to the rest of the league.

And only this week did Texas really start talking about giving the other Big 12 schools "appearance fees" for games aired on LHN. It's all about communication. That's happening now.

ESPN GOES INTO PR MODE: As far as ESPN, I've been trying to get in touch with Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president for programming, for two days. He postponed his appearance on our radio show (104.9 FM The Horn, 6-10 am CT, streamable at espnaustin.com) from Thursday to Friday.

And just now, Keri Potts, spokeswoman at ESPN, graciously postponed his appearance indefinitely because all of the news surrounding LHN is still "swirling." Understandable. But it would be nice to hear from ESPN about the events of this week in the prenatal life of LHN (which launches Aug. 26).

ESPN has released the following statement:

"We recognize more discussion needs to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference. This is uncharted territory for all involved, so it's logical for everyone to proceed carefully.

"Longhorn Network will televise unprecedented coverage of more than 200 UT athletics events annually plus a variety of dynamic, relevant programming."

ANYONE BLUFFING? ESPN will argue that high school programming was never the primary component of LHN's content. And ESPN has said it had nothing to hide about LHN's plans (including the desire to air high school games) and was open since January about what it had planned.

Any time you are in uncharted waters, it's bound to get choppy. This week was certainly choppy. UT's BIg 12 brethren are already on heightened awareness about LHN because it's only giving Texas $15 million more per year in TV revenue than any other school. So communication going forward will probably much better, including a planned meeting of Big 12 athletic directors in August.

After all the speculation about Texas A&M and OU possibly looking for a new home (SEC) to get away from Texas' money generated by the Longhorn Network, my sources tell me OU is in no hurry to talk to the SEC.

But no one seems to be able to read Texas A&M. And when reporters talked to SEC commissioner Mike Slive at SEC Media Days on Thursday about Texas A&M, Slive avoided the subject and ended up smiling while looking down at his feet.

Not exactly a strong denial. (And remember, Slive was in College Station last June feeling like he let one slip away.

Stay tuned.



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