STATEMENT FROM TEXAS A&M DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS BILL BYRNE IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS RAISED BY MEDIA REGARDING THE LONGHORN TELEVISION NETWORK:
"I have continued to have concerns about the Longhorn Network since the original announcement by ESPN and Texas. 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."
Analysis after the jump.
Texas A&M's athletic director, Bill Byrne, released a statement yesterday voicing the Aggies' (and the rest of the Big 12's) concerns about the programming on the new Longhorn TV network. Specifically, Byrne is concerned with the network's plan to broadcast major high school games, which he believes will provide a clear recruiting advantage.
In an interview about Longhorn network programming, network Vice President Dave Brown told Austin radio station KZNX-AM: "Certainly, we're going to follow the great players in the state [....] Obviously, a kid like Jonathan Gray from Aledo. I know people are going to want to see Jonathan Gray. I can't wait to see Jonathan Gray. The feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Jonathan Gray run. Whether it's 45-0 or not, they want to see more Jonathan Gray. So we're going to do our best to accommodate them and follow the kids that are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools -- certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited, is recruiting and everyone else in the Big 12 is recruiting."
Obviously, that's something that needs to be worked out first at the conference level and then on the NCAA level. While the Big 10 Network did not choose to air high school games, instead opting for non-revenue sports and "greatest games", it clearly has the capacity to add high school games to its programming. As big-time recruiting is a national industry at this point, that would produce just as much "recruiting advantage" for member schools (though diffused over the entire conference).
In the end, I expect the network to go ahead with the high school games. This is new ground for the NCAA, and I expect them to observe the network instead of pushing program restrictions. This is not to mention the fact that the network has a contract with Texas, but is not in any way shape or form connected to the NCAA. At this point, it's a private entity (owned by ESPN), which will make program restrictions harder if not impossible for the NCAA.
If there are program restrictions, expect them to come from fellow Big 12 members. Also don't be surprised if this is the straw that breaks the Big 12's back.