DALLAS — Big 12 folks speak gently in public about the Longhorn Network rift. In private, not so much.
“Gotta stand up to ‘em,” one Big 12 coach told me about Texas.
“Texas won't do anything unless you make them,” said a Big 12 administrator.
So goes life in the soap opera-like Big 12. As The Conference Turns.
A league that almost disbanded last summer is feuding again this summer over the Longhorns' fledgling network.
The story of Big 12 Media Days, which concluded Tuesday at the Westin Galleria, was not the mighty Sooners or the upstart Cowboys and Aggies or even the suddenly-hapless Longhorns.
The story was how much of a rift the Longhorn Network has caused. Is this just internal squabbling, which is how commissioner Dan Beebe describes it, or a crack in solidarity?
The answer is squabbling for eight schools. But for Texas A&M, which has to live daily with Longhorn hubris, stay tuned.
Texas' $300 million contract with ESPN is enough to rile up the Aggies. But the threat of the Longhorn Network showing high school games and, through television dirty pool, adding conference games to its allotted one broadcast game, has boiled Aggie blood.
Some in Aggieland long for the Southeastern Conference.
Forget the talk of Oklahoma going to the SEC. There is no interest on campus in the Sooners joining the SEC culture.
The Sooners don't like Texas to start with and don't like Texas throwing around its weight, but OU generally works out its frustrations in the Cotton Bowl.
A&M is different. Its leaders have to share a state with the ‘Horns. Share boardrooms and courtrooms and even bedrooms.
The Aggies aren't likely to bolt the Big 12. If for no other reason, Texas Gov. Rick Perry won't let them. Perry is a big-time Aggie, appointed the A&M board of regents and helped keep the Big 12 together last summer.
Perry might be running for the White House; he doesn't want to alienate his Texas constituency, which in politics goes far beyond A&M football.
Still, Aggie athletic director “Bill Byrne is in the crosshairs,” said one Big 12 AD.
Byrne showed remarkable diplomacy Monday, expressing his displeasure with the events of the network but vowing his allegiance to the Big 12.
“I was trouncing around this neck of the woods 20 years ago as an NCAA investigator,” Beebe said. “There's a contingent of people at Texas A&M who for 20 years have wanted to go elsewhere. Anytime something happens, they say, ‘this is our chance, let's go.'
“I'm thankful and grateful that the majority of A&M grads and fans don't feel that way.”
We'll see. Rattle enough sabres, and soon enough, someone swings one.
Big 12 athletic directors meet next week to discuss the Longhorn Network, but expect the presidents to take over the decision-making. Here we are, less than six weeks from the season opener, and neither issue is resolved.
The NCAA eventually will outlaw high school games on university-branded networks, no doubt about it.
The second game on the Longhorn Network is dicier. If Texas Tech has to play on the Longhorn Network, revolution could ensue.
Or say ESPN cuts a deal with Tech to play without griping, in exchange for a couple of future prime television appearances. What if that costs Oklahoma State or Missouri a plush TV spot?
Maybe ESPN and UT just pay a Kansas State or someone to play on the Longhorn Network. And best-case scenario, ESPN offers a clean feed of the telecast back to the local market of the opponent, complete with its own announcers.
It's one big mess and needs to be sorted out soon.
“This has to work for everybody if you don't want everybody drawing their swords and seeing who's left standing,” Beebe said.
Beebe said he knows there are going to ah-ha moments in which doom will be proclaimed.
“We have an issue,” Beebe said. “There's disagreement. We can come together and solve the issue and be stronger than we've ever been.
“We're not going to have the benefit of the doubt for awhile. Some people can't wait to see the train wreck. I get it. Some of that is fair. Some of that is blown up way too big.”
The Big 12's new branding theme, unveiled Monday, is “How We Play.”
It's a little cheesy. Promotes things like all 10 schools being in the same time zone and all 10 schools being in I-35 states. Doesn't exactly match up with the SEC's five straight national championships.
But back to the theme. How We Play? Not very nicely. Big 12 schools are fussing again.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.