Longhorn Network Gets NCAA's Attention

TV money is changing the college sports landscape. Lured by bigger and bigger paydays, many conferences and some individual teams, are starting their own television networks. The University of Texas has launched the Longhorn Network.

DAVID GREENE, host:

Later this week the eyes of Texas might glaze over from hour after hour of University of Texas sports. The new Longhorn Network - LHN - debuts on cable television. It'll be just in time for Friday's women's volleyball game against Pepperdine. Of course, the main event is football. It's Texas, remember. And the home opener in that sport is September 3rd. The network will be all over it.

Lucrative television deals nothing new in college football. Some conferences have their own networks. But a network that's focused on just one team, and a team as influential as Texas, has caught the NCAA attention. And for more on this we've turned to NPR's Tom Goldman.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, David.

GREENE: The Longhorn Network, tell us about it and tell us what's going to be on.

GOLDMAN: "Texas' Greatest Games," "Longhorn Legends," "Texas Game Day." Sensing a pattern here?

GREENE: I'm sensing a pattern.

GOLDMAN: There will be telecasts of 20 different sports, like that volleyball match you mentioned. But during the football season, Texas, a lot of football. So much that Texas coach Mack Brown has said publicly he's a tad anxious about all the access the network's asking for.

GREENE: Well, you know, we mentioned that TV and college sports have this long history. What exactly is the NCAA worried about with this?

GOLDMAN: Well, the Longhorn Network earlier this summer said it planned to carry high school games. Now, this scared other schools in the Big 12, Texas's conference. They said Texas would have an unfair recruiting advantage. For instance, broadcasting a high school game gives that high school and coach great visibility. The coach may advise an athlete who's trying to decide where to go to college to go to Texas because they treated us well.

Now, the NCAA responded to concerns by announcing this month that its bylaws say no broadcasting of high school games. There was a previously scheduled NCAA summit yesterday in Indianapolis to discuss the growth of college sports TV networks.

The high school youth sport issues dominated that discussion. And the NCAA says it was the start of a process that will lead to a final policy decision in about six to nine months.

GREENE: Talk about the evolution of college sports on TV. I mean, Notre Dame games showed up a lot of NBC Sports for a long time, but you're saying this is taking it to a whole direction.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. Before we talk about the new direction, where it's come from is interesting. You know, the first televised college football game in 1939 had one camera, one announcer. Then you've got the biggest conference network deal so far - the PAC 12 conference contract with ESPN and Fox. And that's worth about $3 billion over 12 years.

David, these whooper TV contracts obviously drive college football now. The quest to part of a huge deal was a big reason why there was all the musical chairs going on over the past year, with schools hopping to different conferences.

So, you ask, where's it all headed. Probably more schools cutting individual deals like Texas, and some schools missing out on the big TV contracts.

I talked to Marc Ganis, a smart sports business guy in Chicago. He told me Congress might get involved, because the schools left behind have sympathetic lawmakers in D.C. And they'll make a lot of noise about antitrust and the like.

GREENE: And, Tom, if ESPN is managing this network, I gather it will mean a lot of money for the school.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, about $11 million a year.

GREENE: Is there any connection, Tom, briefly, between all of these issues and the unfolding scandal at the University of Miami, which has certainly gotten the NCAA's attention, where a booster allegedly gave athletes money, jewelry, even access to prostitutes?

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah, I think there is. In going forward in the future with these big deals and all the money, there will be pressure to attract star high school athletes even more, as colleges try to be one of the economic haves. That potentially could lead to more inducements, more NCAA rules violations.

GREENE: Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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