Longhorn Network stirs some controversy

AUSTIN, Texas — The Longhorn Network continues to generate big headlines before hitting the airwaves.

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.

Texas seemed agreeable.

"We want to play by the rules," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodd said. "We want everything to be in the open with integrity. We're for the conference."

Texas will receive $300 million over 20 years from ESPN to operate the Longhorn Network, which debuts Aug. 26.

"ESPN knows we don't want to violate any NCAA rules. They don't want us to," Dodds said, indicating a willingness to work through the process on televising high school games.

"That would not be a way we want a recruiting advantage. This will be a service to high school football. We don't want it tied to Texas."

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 Jonathan Gray, who has orally committed to Texas but not signed a national letter of intent.

"I know people are going to want to see Jonathan Gray. I can't wait to see Jonathan Gray," Brown told the station. "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."

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