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July 22, 2011

ESPN to blame for a week of doom-and-gloom headlines?

Texas A&M and Oklahoma are not trying to size up a possible move to the Southeastern Conference, multiple high-ranking sources across the Big 12 said Friday.

The sources said Oklahoma is hard at work on its own television network and that a Texas A&M regents meeting Thursday in which the Big 12, Texas and the Longhorn Network were discussed was not as heated as many had thought.

ESPN'S ROLE IN BIG 12 BLOWUP

Several sources around the league told Orangebloods.com Friday if there's anyone to blame for a week's worth of runaway rumors and doom-and-gloom headlines involving the Big 12 and Texas' Longhorn Network it's ESPN.

ESPN officials declined to comment to Orangebloods.com Friday for this story.

Three high-ranking sources at Big 12 schools said Friday ESPN announced a conference game would air on the Longhorn Network in addition to the Texas-Rice season opener on Sept. 3 before even getting approval from the school that would face Texas in that conference game on LHN.

ESPN COURTED TEXAS TECH FOR LHN GAME

Multiple sources told Orangebloods.com Friday ESPN approached Texas Tech about having its Nov. 5 game against Texas aired on LHN. Before Tech had agreed to anything, the Worldwide Leader put out a press release on July 5 saying LHN would have a Big 12 conference game in addition to the Texas-Rice season opener, sources said.

Big 12 TV contracts stipulate that only 1 game be granted at the third-tier or institutional rights level (where LHN is operating).

But because ABC/ESPN also holds the Tier 1 rights to football in the Big 12, it appears ABC/ESPN thought it could swing a deal with Fox Sports Net, the Tier 2 rights holder in the Big 12, to get a second game on LHN, sources said.

"Even though ESPN may have had the ability to put a second game on the Longhorn Network because they hold the primary rights to football in the Big 12, they didn't discuss it with members of the conference," one high-ranking administrator in the Big 12 said. "Considering it was going to be a conference game, you have to vet that with everyone in the league. It definitely raised some eyebrows because we are used to a good working relationship with ESPN as a conference."

Sources said they believed ESPN sought the Texas Tech game on Nov. 5 for LHN because ESPN hopes most of the cable providers in Texas will carry LHN, so most Tech fans in the state would be able to see the game.

"But you're still asking a Texas Tech fan to turn on the Longhorn Network," the source said. "And that's not gonna fly with that Tech fan. It puts the conference school facing Texas in that situation in a very awkward position."

Officials at Texas Tech declined to comment for this story.


JUMPING THE GUN?

Here is the press release ESPN put out on July 5:

Austin -- Two Texas Football games will air exclusively on the Longhorn Network in 2011, ESPN has announced. The Rice game will air at 6 p.m. Central on Saturday, Sept. 3, from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, in addition to one game against a Big 12 opponent to be determined later.

The game against the Owls will mark the 93rd meeting between former Southwest Conference foes. Texas leads the all-time series, 70-21-1, including a 41-8 mark in Austin, where the teams last met in 2008, a 52-10 UT win. It will be the 11th meeting since Texas joined the Big 12. Texas has won all 10 meetings since then, 11 consecutive overall and 39 of the last 40.

Viewers seeking more information about where and how to get Longhorn Network in time for its August 26 launch should visit GetLonghornNetwork.com. At launch, the site LonghornNetwork.com will be the broadband network home for Longhorn Network.



BIG 12 GAME PUT ON HOLD

The furor over ESPN's announcement reached a crescendo this week when Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe announced any conference game being aired on LHN would be put on hold.

The three Big 12 administrators said ESPN appears so desperate to put pressure on cable systems to carry LHN that it ignored protocol and embarrassed not only the Bristol, Conn.-based network but also the University of Texas.

DAMAGE CONTROL

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was on a conference call on Monday with ADs from the rest of the Big 12 to try to explain that Texas wants transparency in the launching and operating of LHN, several sources said.

Texas officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"This was ESPN acting on its own," one high-ranking administrator in the Big 12 said. "I don't think Texas even knew where ESPN was in the process of trying to get this conference game secured. DeLoss Dodds has been very open and forthcoming with all the schools in the Big 12.

"I think this probably opened some eyes about just how much pressure ESPN is trying to put on cable systems to carry the Longhorn Network."


HIGH SCHOOL GAMES TABLED ON LHN

This week's other significant dustup in the Big 12 involving LHN came as a result of comments made on The Morning Rush on 104.9 FM The Horn by ESPN's Dave Brown, who is in charge of programming for LHN.

Brown told 104.9 The Horn that ESPN wanted to air 18 high school games on LHN and talked about wanting to feature games involving RB Johnathan Gray of Aledo and QB Connor Brewer of Scottsdale (Ariz) Chapparal, both of whom are UT commitments in the class of 2012.

Even though ESPN had been saying it wanted to air high school football games from the beginning of its $300 million, 20-year investment to own and operate LHN, it was those comments that seemed to resonate with the rest of the Big 12 when circulated by the web site SportsByBrooks this week.

Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne put out a statement Thursday saying he has asked for the NCAA to clarify if a TV network dedicated to a single university could or should air high school games.

Beebe announced the airing of high school games on LHN would also be put on hold until the NCAA made a ruling.

When contacted by Orangebloods.com for comment Friday night, ESPN officials referred to a statement put out Thursday.

ESPN's RESPONSE

"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."

So a week's worth of bad headlines speculating about the Big 12 possibly coming apart because Texas and the Longhorn Network appeared to be bullying the rest of the league to the point of distraction might have been avoided if ESPN had been more professional in its dealings, sources said.

The Longhorn Network is set to launch on Aug. 26 with a celebration on the Texas campus that will include ESPN's College Gameday crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Erin Andrews.

ESPN's negotiations with cable systems over LHN are ongoing. No announcements have yet been made about who will carry LHN.


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