HOUSTON — Last month, officials with the University of Texas and ESPN Inc. trumpeted their 20-year, $300 million deal to create a 24-hour television network that will broadcast Longhorns sports.
“We're going to cover (Texas) football like it's never been covered before,” said Burke Magnus, senior vice president of college sports programming for ESPN.
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports, called the network “a testament to the school's remarkable, tradition-rich success and widespread, devoted fan base.”
The schools who compete with Texas see it a little different.
The prospect of Texas athletics potentially reaching the homes of young athletes across the country has competing schools scrambling for ways to keep pace. One rival suggested the network offers an unfair advantage that merits NCAA scrutiny.
The Texas deal also may include coverage of some high school events, and Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne says that should raise questions about the possibility of illegal recruiting practices.
“I can't speak for the NCAA, but I would imagine the governing body will look into the use of a collegiate television network airing games of prospective student-athletes,” Byrne said in a statement. “I understand networks such as FSN and ESPN airing high school sports, but whether or not employees under contract with a university that may have additional contact would seem to be an issue.”
The NCAA referred questions about the TV deal to the university and ESPN.
The agreement calls for exclusive broadcasts of at least 200 Longhorns' games per year, including all the school's non-revenue sports. The still-unnamed network is scheduled to debut in September and school officials say it also will air academic and cultural programming.
Texas will control the content, so the network virtually amounts to a 24-hour advertisement that offers another enormous recruiting advantage for a school already among the richest and most powerful in the country.
High school athletics directors said the network will have a major impact on impressionable youngsters mulling college choices, especially those in other states.
“I think it is the wave of the future,” said Ben Pardo, the athletics director at Pearland High School, which won the Texas 5A football championship in December. “We're in a visual society, and any kid who sees that and is exposed to that anywhere, that will certainly have an impact on how a kid perceives a university. That certainly is a great way for a university to expose what it has to offer to a younger and more widespread group.”
Ray Seals, the football coach and athletics coordinator at Houston's Madison High School, where former Texas quarterback Vince Young played, said the network also gives Texas a valuable selling point to prospective athletes' parents.
“The sports like field hockey and things like that, you never see it on TV,” Seals said. “Now, knowing that you can get that kind of exposure, that'd be hard to turn down for a youngster nowadays.
“And now, if my parents can't come down to see me play, they can see me on TV,” Seals said. “Parents won't have to take those long trips anymore, they can just turn on the TV and see their kids. Somebody did a good job of setting that up.”
Grasping the possibilities, Oklahoma plans to launch a similar network within the next year.
Like Texas, the Sooners' football and basketball programs already garner plenty of national exposure. Oklahoma baseball coach Sunny Golloway said such a network will help the lower-tier sports stay on equal footing with their rivals across the Red River.
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