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Dan Beebe

It’s “The Longhorn Network” for a reason

Branding, y’all. It’s called branding. And I don’t mean what they do to cattle. Though I suppose that is sort of what’s happening here, now that I think about it.

Opponents’ views of Texas’ new cable network venture with ESPN have quickly escalated from concern to apprehension to resentment. Texas A&M’s board of regents will be discussing the Longhorn Network in executive session Thursday. Unconfirmed rumors suggested A&M and Oklahoma were eyeing the Southeastern Conference.

Texas officials tried to reassure the Big 12 and its conference rivals about the 24/7 cable network this week. UT participated in conference calls with conference athletic directors Monday and presidents Wednesday to allay fears about the network’s scope.

Commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary compromise Wednesday. Telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network are now on hold, pending decisions by the NCAA and the Big 12 about how to handle school and conference networks. The Big 12 also delayed the possibility of a conference game on the Longhorn Network, announced earlier this month as part of a side deal with Fox.

“It’s not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none,” Beebe said.

[…]

Anxiety skyrocketed in early June after Austin’s 104.9 FM interviewed Dave Brown, the Longhorn Network’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. His responses seemed to confirm the worst fears that the Longhorn Network would zoom from zero to overkill with 18 high school games on Thursdays and Saturdays. Brown specifically mentioned star Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, who has orally committed to Texas but not signed a letter of intent.

“I know people are going to want to see Johnathan Gray. I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray,” Brown told the station. “Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run — whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray.”

I don’t know about those “unconfirmed rumors” regarding A&M, OU, and the SEC, but A&M President Loftin Bowin was quite clear about their school’s unhappiness with this.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin used the term “uncertainty” time and again Thursday in describing the state of the league, thanks to the start of the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network in Austin next month.

“The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a nonconference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN’s announcement regarding high school games would be televised as well,” Loftin said. “Both of those we believe provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference.”

[…]

Loftin said the LHN has no business showing Big 12 football games, and especially high school games that might target top recruits.

“If (they show) one conference game, then maybe we have two or three,” Loftin said. “High school games are very problematic. … If we have an unequal playing field for various schools (concerning recruiting), we think that is a problem. That creates uncertainty.”

Meanwhile ESPN and A&M athletic director Bill Byrne chimed in on the suddenly touchy subject Thursday.

“We recognize more discussions need to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference,” ESPN said in a statement. “This is uncharted territory for all involved, so it’s logical for everyone to proceed carefully.”

What I don’t understand is why this is “suddenly” a touchy subject. The UIL has had its eyes on the Longhorn Network from the beginning. Was nobody else thinking about the implications of this at that time? Good luck cramming that genie back into the lamp now, that’s all I can say.

Utah to join PAC 10

In case anyone still cares. Oh, and the Big 10 is having some scheduling issues now that they have 12 members. Boy, no one could have predicted that.

I think I’ve decided that the now-misnumbered Big 10 and PAC 10 should keep their monikers, but do all of their business in base-12, so that their names become accurate. By the same token, the Bix XII should adopt the octal system. Might make for some confusing game summaries at first (“what do you mean, Smolensky rushed for AB yards?”), but we’ll get used to it in time.

Finally, 26 members of the legislative delegation from the Houston area sent a letter to Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe and the presidents of the Texas Big XII schools advocating for UH’s inclusion. The letter, for which you can see the Beebe example here, was signed by all Harris County State Reps except for Patricia Harless, Joe Crabb, John Davis, Scott Hochberg, and Dwayne Bohac; non-Harris members Larry Taylor, Charlie Howard, Randy Weber, and John Zerwas; and Senators Rodney Ellis and Mario Gallegos.

Is the Big XII in UH’s future?

Now that we know the Big XII will survive, one question that now arises is whether it will try to replace defectors Nebraska and Colorado, and if so with which teams. Already, there’s a drumbeat for UH being included. Richard Justice runs out to the front of the parade.

The Big 12 almost certainly will add two teams at some point. It may be two years from now, maybe longer. TCU would seem to be a slam dunk for one of the invitations, and UH needs to position itself for the other.

To do so will require work on multiple fronts, to do things UH has been unable to do in the past. But this is a new era at UH.

I’ve kind of lost count of the number of New Eras there have been at UH since I came to town in 1988. I can’t help but feel like I’ve heard this all before – IF they can maintain recent success, and IF they can upgrade their facilities, and IF they can draw bigger crowds, then it will all come together. If they can in fact do these things, then UH makes some sense; there’s enough UT and A&M alums here to make Houston a part of the Big XII TV market already, so that’s not much of a factor. Let’s just say I’m not going to hold my breath on this.

UH President Dr. Renu Khator gets some space on the op-ed pages to chime in as well with a rah-rah piece for her school. I noticed that the one thing neither she nor Justice mentioned was the concept of rivalries – UH rivalries, I mean. As that was a large subject of discussion when everyone thought the Big XII was headed for the junk pile, and especially when it looked like A&M might part ways with UT, that seems a curious oversight. Not to put too fine a point on it, but UH’s biggest rival these days is Rice, whom UH would be leaving behind in this scenario. Yes, I know, UH sees UT as a rival. I have news for you: UH and UT are rivals in the same way that Rice and UT are rivals. The rivalry means a lot more to one school than it does to the other. If all that lip service to rivalries meant anything, then the UH-to-the-Big XII advocates should be calling for Rice to come along as well. As TCU is also being mentioned, bringing Rice along would give the conference 13 members, so we may as well go whole hog and grab SMU, too, to balance out TCU and get things back to an even number. And since that would make the Big XII moniker as accurate as “Big 10” and “PAC 10” are right now, a new name for it would be in order. I have a suggestion for that, too.

Anyway. If you want to see the UH thing happen, there’s a University of Houston Should Join The Big 12 Facebook group for you. There’s a similar group for TCU, too, if your tastes go that way. If you want to read more about how Dan Beebe pulled this off, read Kevin Sherrington and especially Dan Wetzel, who reminds us that this is a temporary peace. Sooner or later, something like what the PAC 10 was trying to do will come up again. Burka, the Trib, and Sean Pendergast have more.

Big XII lives

Wow.

“The University of Texas’ athletics programs will continue competing in the Big 12 Conference,” the school announced Monday in a statement.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin released the following statement:

“Texas A&M is a proud member of the Big 12 Conference and will continue to be affiliated with the conference in the future. As Athletics Director Bill Byrne and I have stated on numerous occasions, our hope and desire was for the Big 12 to continue. We are committed to the Big 12 and its success today and into the future.”

Oklahoma also announced its intention to stay in the Big 12.

Less than five hours ago, the departure of UT, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the PAC 10 was described as “imminent”, though there were other reports at the same time that the situation was more fluid. Guess we know which it is. I’m a little surprised by this, on the grounds that UT’s regents were to meet tomorrow, and A&M’s regents had not yet even scheduled a meeting. Apparently, that pitch from Big XII Commish Dan Beebe was more compelling than I expected it to be.

Beebe’s pitch involves projections of a significant increase in the Big 12’s cable rights beginning in 2012. The numbers suggest an average payout per team at about $17 million, just under the $17.4 million per school the deep-pocketed SEC distributed.

“We have as much value as 10 here than just about any other conference out there,” Beebe said Friday. “If it’s about that value and that money, then that shouldn’t be part of the equation.

“If it’s about other factors that are outside of our control, then there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Big 12 schools heard an optimistic presentation in Kansas City during the spring meetings by Fox Sports Net suggesting a significant increase.

There is a catch: the Fox offer to the Big 12 would be long term, upward of 18 years, according to multiple sources. A great deal now might not be as lucrative in 2025.

The Big 12 could get even more cash in 2016, when the league’s broadcast TV rights package with ABC/ESPN expires. The departure of Colorado and Nebraska will add about $32 million to the conference in penalties over the next two years.

According to ESPN, UT will still be allowed to pursue its own TV network. Earlier reports had suggested that this would be a deal-killer for Texas A&M. Just goes to show you never really knew what was going on all this time. The questions I have now are one, will the PAC 10+1 add a 12th team so they can at least get a conference championship game, and two, will the Big 10 and its 12 members swap names with the Big XII and its 10 members? I suppose it’s possible the Big XII could hunt for a couple of new members to make its name accurate again – I have a statement from State Rep. Garnet Coleman advocating for the inclusion of UH and TCU – but that still doesn’t settle the Big 10 mess. All in due time, I suppose. Credit to the DMN for being first out with the story.