"I called (Byrne) and asked if he wanted to visit about it. We did visit about a statewide network," Dodds said. "I told him I didn't know if we had the (program) inventory necessary to do a 24/7 network.For his part, Byrne responded with a terse blog statement taking issue with the context of Dodds' assertions.
"The next time I heard about it (from Byrne) was a year and a half ago. And we said we had enough inventory to do it, and we moved ahead on our own. And that was before we knew what the money was going to be."
"Three or four years ago we talked about doing a joint flagship channel," Byrne wrote. "I liked the idea, but our fans should know me better than to think I would pass on a $150 million deal for Texas A&M. That never happened."The basic facts don't appear to be in dispute, but it's pretty clear not all the facts have been brought forth. The word circulating in Aggie circles currently is that Dodds invited Byrne to invest in the venture, 50/50 (back when Dodds expected to foot the bill for the startup, rather than piggyback on ESPN) but only offered a 60/40 or 70/30 revenue split, along the lines of the revenue disbursement from the Permanent University Fund. Byrne subsequently declined. There may or may not be fact backing up that characterization, but parsing Dodds' statement "I didn't think we had the inventory to do a 24/7 network" could lead one to interpret his view of any A&M involvement as secondary, filler material--akin to Sham-Wow infomercials at 3 a.m.--and therefore less deserving of a full share. In the past, A&M would probably have accepted this as the cost of doing business. I could see Wally Groff accepting the deal, viewing even a modest new revenue stream and improving A&M's position overall even if it improved Texas an order of magnitude more. But Byrne's been all about national benchmarks and equal positioning and market share. He's not one to accept once slice of pie if the guy sitting across the table is getting three. I'm still a little annoyed by a persistent mis-characterization perpetuated by ESPN, though:
When six Big 12 programs -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado -- negotiated with the Pac-10 last year, Texas walked away from the negotiation at the 11th hour because Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott wanted all the schools in the new conference to pool their media rights. In other words, Texas walked away to preserve the Longhorn Network.Those six Big 12 teams weren't negotiating with the Pac 10. Dodds himself negotiated offers from the Pac 10 behind closed doors and presented the plan to blow up the Big 12 as fait accompli. The invitations were on the table. When A&M balked, and instead started talking with the Southeastern Conference, this caught Dodds and the Pac 10 by surprise and the delay allowed Baylor an opportunity to martial its political supporters. The Pac 10 did not want Baylor, but Colorado panicked, seeing itself as the odd team out if Baylor muscled its way into the party, and promptly accepted the Pac 10 offer. Texas, seeing A&M as the cockroach messing up a perfect plan by opening the door for Baylor, instead used the LHN as an excuse to back out on the deal with the Pac 10. As Dodds himself has stressed many times, nobody expected the LHN to bring in as much money as it did. He was willing to scrap the idea for the LHN to join the Pac 10 if the idea for an eastern division with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State could be pulled off. When that proved impossible, the LHN was a convenient excuse to "save" the Big 12 (which Dodds was all but burying a few days before). With Dodds being as shrewd a negotiator as he is, there is zero chance negotiations reached the point of invitations being extended without him taking the future of the LHN into consideration. But the money is only a secondary consideration--as others have pointed out, Texas has always had more money than everyone else and always will. It's the other issue that tilt the playing field, such as defying the Big 12 by contracting with ESPN to broadcast a league game (resulting in some conflict of interest bullying on ESPN's part toward conference schools such as Tech, Baylor and Kansas State).
Potentially as thorny was the plan to televise high school games and show high school highlights on the Longhorn Network. Televising games would give Texas an almost prohibitive recruiting advantage. The NCAA has scuttled those plans for this season, but if history is any guide, the NCAA must tread carefully when restricting television freedom. The organization already lost a Supreme Court case over its control of television rights in 1984. Plus, the highlights offer a similar recruiting advantage, and the NCAA has agreed for the time being to allow the Longhorn Network to show highlights. "The NCAA is taking a wait and see attitude on the highlights," Byrne wrote in his letter to fans. "I disagree with their stance -- as do many of my colleagues across the country. We anticipate that ESPN will continue to push the envelope with the Longhorn Network, regardless of Texas A&M's conference affiliation.""Continue to push the envelope" is the key phrase. Texas and ESPN will keep pushing--a steady drumbeat, if you will--and eventually wear down the opposition bit by bit. Eventually, some Big 12 team will give in and let its game be broadcast (I'm looking at you, Iowa State) and once that levee is breached, more will follow. Eventually, I'd expect all Texas home games to be carried exclusively on the LHN. Comparisons to Notre Dame's deal with NBC are inaccurate, because NBC is a free broadcast network, included on every basic cable package. The LHN is a premium cable offering (currently with very few carriers, true) in which subscription fees go directly to Austin with ESPN taking its cut. So no, not an apt comparison at all.
If the swirling rumors that Texas is resurrecting the Pac 16 conference plan now that Utah State has filled the opening reserved for A&M (and that Baylor coveted) are true, it will be interesting to see what happens with the LHN. Will Dodds hold onto it with a death grip? Or will he compromise with the Pac, and partner with Tech and the Oklahoma schools to turn it into some sort of regional network? Whatever shakes out, it will be interesting to watch.
As the conference turns, pt. 1
As the conference turns, pt. 2
As the conference turns, pt. 3
As the conference turns, pt. 4
As the conference turns, pt. 5
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