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Big 12 administrators should blame Longhorn Network mess on themselves

BERRY TRAMEL COMMENTARY — Big 12 administrators find themselves in crisis management. Texas A&M has already bolted for the SEC and Missouri might do the same. All of this could have been avoided with a little foresight.
by Berry Tramel Published: October 4, 2011

OU-Texas week arrives, and the most dominant force in college football is neither player nor coach. Not offensive trend nor uniform revolution.

A little-seen cable channel lords over the sport in this autumn of 2011. The Longhorn Network has reshaped the landscape. Sent Texas A&M screaming to the SEC last month. Might do the same to Missouri.

But before we curse DeLoss Dodds, or go all Harvey Updyke and saw off Bevo's horns, or hatch one of those silly plans to kick Texas out of the conference, remember this.

If Big 12 leaders want to blame someone for the mess created by Bevo TV, their prey is easily found.

Try the mirror.

Big 12 administrators – presidents, athletic directors, heck, even football coaches – let this happen through their own greed and lack of vision.

Even the Sooners, who have no reason to fear the Longhorns and little reason to fear The Longhorn Network, sought to play stare-down with Dodds' baby.

Bevo TV indeed has created trouble. The financial inequities, which are so vast Texas signed off this week on sharing all other revenues equally. The shifting of conference games to the network. High school content, which would be an obvious recruiting advantage.

All legitimate concerns.

But this is crisis management. Waiting until the house is on fire to check the smoke alarm. Where was the attention to detail when institutional networks were being discussed? Where was the foresight when then-commissioner Kevin Weiberg campaigned for a Big 12 Network?

Conference leadership either didn't stand up to Texas or didn't carefully consider the ramifications.

If it's the former, that's not on Texas or ESPN or even deposed commissioner Dan Beebe. That's on the other Big 12 schools.

When the Longhorns entered the league in 1996 and stipulated inequitable revenue sharing, Texas bargained from a position of strength. If the Big Eight schools wanted the ‘Horns, they had to meet UT's demands.

But 15 years later? Where was Texas' negotiating strength? What other league was going to give UT the freedom to form its own channel?

For reasons I still don't understand, Big 12 schools preferred institutional networks over a conference network. Maybe it was to prove Weiberg wrong. Maybe it was to upstage the Big Ten and its vaunted network.

Either way, a total misplay. A total lack of vision.

The other big money-makers — OU, A&M, Nebraska — never dreamed that Texas could land a deal like the $300-million, 20-year contract with ESPN.

Maybe they were misled. A Big 12 source said early talks were held with ESPN, which showed scant interest in either a Big 12 Network or school networks. “But as we see, things change,” the source said.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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