With the tumultuous offseason that Oregon has been facing, its easy to forget other goings on in the college football landscape. We all know that the University of Texas will receive $300 million over ten years from ESPN for broadcast rights to the Longhorn Network. We know that such a single school network will be clamoring for programming, and it has been noted that UT is planning on broadcasting high school games to fill the void. This doesn't seem to make sense, as Chip Kelly or Mike Riley cannot talk about a recruit until a letter of intent is signed, yet a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Texas can broadcast their games? Its not hard to see the major problem here. However, never fear says Texas AD DeLoss Dodds:
ESPN will select the games based on what they feel is best. We understand that this is a new world and that we're leading the way in an area that is new to us and new to the NCAA and new to ESPN. Like everything else, we will do it in a first-class way, in the light of day, and we will do it the right way.
According to the link, the bylaw (13.10) states that "a prospective athlete can't be involved (in person, on film or audio) with a television or radio broadcast that might feature a coach from UT, or is organized by someone in the athletics department at UT." But a contractor for the University of Texas can? Can Oregon hire a firm to produce high school football games for Ozone?
But never fear, because these games will be produced completely independently of the UT, right? The road is still wrought with with problems.
The first is while ESPN can handle the hiring of talent for the Longhorn Network, the University of Texas has control over the firing:
in the event that UT reasonably determines that any on-air talent does not reflect the quality and reputation desired by UT for the Network based on inappropriate statements made or actions taken by such talent and so notifies ESPN, ESPN will cause such talent to be promptly replaced (and will in any event no longer allow them on air following such notice).
What if the programming director schedules games that have Texas A&M commits? What is a commenter says during a game that a linebacker would fit in great at Oklahoma, or a running back would do really well in Oregon's spread?
Also note recent comments by ESPN programming VP Dave Brown (warning: SportsbyTMZ link):
"We're going to follow the great [high school] players in the state. Obviously a kid like [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Johnathan Gray. I know people [Longhorn Network subscribers] are going to want to see Johnathan Gray, I can't wait to see Johnathan Gray.
"Feedback 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. So we're going to do our best to accomodate them [Longhorn Network subscribers] and follow the kids who are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited and is recruiting and everyone else the Big 12 is recruiting
"One other thing, you may see us, I know there's a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that'll be part of the scene in Austin."
Of course they are going to show games of UT commits. This is the Longhorn Network. Not only are the programmers beholden to UT, but its people in Texas who will be demanding the network, and therefore lining ESPN's coffers. The result is exactly the same as if UT were broadcasting these games themselves: Mack Brown can assure recruits that if they commit to UT, their high school games will be broadcast. If they are not, somebody's job could be on the line. There is also every incentive in the world to flatter these athletes and tell them how great they would look in burnt orange. While it would be one thing if ESPN were in this venture on their own, remember the whole thing is owned by the University of Texas.
Understandably, this doesn't sit well with the rest of the college football community, specifically other Big XII members, who compete most directly with the Longhorns for recruits. The Texas A&M board of regents is meeting today to discuss the Longhorn Network, and rumors are swirling that Oklahoma and A&M are threatening to move to the SEC if the Longhorns aren't dealt with in a satisfactory manner. This has caused Big XII commissioner Dan Beebe to put a hold on the whole plan...for now.
It remains to be seen how the story of the Longhorn Network will play out. However, a few things are abundantly clear. To allow Texas to carry on with the plan to show high school games is wrought with potential for corruption, giving Texas an advantage over not only their Big XII counterparts, but over every other school who wishes to recruit the state with the most Division 1 prospects, and the NCAA needs to be proactive once and close the rule loopholes that would allow such activity to persist.
It also shows the deep fractures that exist within the Big XII so long as Texas wants to remain in a position of dominance over everyone else. And while the Texas Tech's and Iowa State's of the world may not have many other options, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and probably Missouri do. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't bet on the future of the Big XII being a long one.