It has been as reliable as a Jennifer Lopez marriage going bad. Information leaks out about the unholy union of ESPN and the University of Texas known as the Longhorn Network (LHN), and butthurt fans in Big 12 country get to bitching.
With good reason. The LHN makes the rich much richer and tilts an uneven playing field even farther towards the 'Horns. As if the money isn't enough, UT and the Worldwide Leader are now attempting to ram through a plan to televise high school games, which could only augment Texas' already significant edge in the recruiting game in the talent-laden state of Texas, let alone build a stronger presence nationally.
Texas may have plenty of built-in advantages when it comes to the business of college sports, but you don't make it to the top of an ultra-competitive industry without knowing a thing or two about how to wield a sword. Ever since the wheels of conference realignment began turning last summer, it seems clear Texas has done as all Big Swinging Dicks are wont to do, using its money, power and influence to get its way. (What, you thought it was a mere coincidence that the politicos got involved when Texas A&M started making noise about a move to the SEC?)
In the case of BevoTV, we've reached uncharted territory. It's not just that the usual rules of the road don't apply in this case; in a lot of ways, they haven't even been written. And this is where the shot-callers can really have some fun.
Texas and ESPN now enjoy the opportunity to test the limits of just how far they can go with their pet project before the NCAA and other schools finally say no. Thus, the ongoing "discussions" with the Association regarding plans to televise high school games on the LHN.
How is that possible when the NCAA bylaws explicitly prohibit schools from arranging for recruits to appear on television programs? Here's where rich people pull out their favorite big gun: the lawyers.
Extrapolating from athletic director DeLoss Dodds' comments last week, UT's plan is to hand over full control of the high school broadcasts to ESPN, thereby skirting the rule prohibiting recruits from participating in a broadcast in which a "member of the institution's athletics staff has been instrumental in arranging for the appearance." And, of course, should you have any concerns that Texas is dictating the coverage behind the scenes, Dodds is emphasizing that everything will be done "in a first-class way, in the light of day."
(Does that mean players will get a hot towel and their choice of entree?)
To borrow from Dodds' haughty lexicon, that seems like a first-class legal strategy written by a first-class group of lawyers. And it's no doubt backed by the implicit threat of a first-class lawsuit should anyone interfere.
All of which is a first-class load of horseshit.
As our friend Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation clearly illustrates, the LHN is a Texas-backed promotional enterprise for the university. We can waste time hashing out the legalese of "ownership" and the "economic purpose" of high school broadcasts, but ultimately, there's simply no way this plan is in line with the spirit of the NCAA's laws.
At the end of the day, I expect the backlash from schools outside Texas' sandbox will prevent the LHN from going nationwide in search of Mack Brown's next signee. However, if I'm an administrator at a Big 12 institution – looking your way, Joe Castiglione – my big concern would be some kind of compromise enabling the LHN to broadcast games within the borders of the Lone Star State.
Texas' rivals can piss and moan about the unfairness of the very existence of the LHN and the ever-expanding influence of ESPN in college sports, but the reality is that the Big 12 programs left that door wide open. You can't fault the UT brass for playing the game and playing it well.
On the other side of the coin, I'm not going to play the hindsight card and dog the rest of the league for failing to consider that ESPN would grossly overpay for the privilege of broadcasting Texas water polo matches and academic lectures.
Even so, that doesn't give them a pass on the new issue of the high school broadcasts. Seeing as we've reached the point where we're writing rules on the fly, I don't see why Texas should be the only school wielding a pen. This new proposal gives the rest of the league the opportunity to regain a measure of control.
The 'Horns have – legitimately – taken plenty of inches since last summer's expansion extravaganza, but the rest of the conference now needs to make sure they don't get this mile.