Bold, controversial; who needs friends with a network like this

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Gib Operator Mike Pendley prepares to shoot a segment in the new Longhorn Network Studio Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

It is highly unlikely that when Col. Walter S. Hunnicutt wrote the lyrics to “Texas Fight” in the 1920s, he had any idea his words would take on such a literal meaning 90 years later.

After all, the phrase, “And it’s good-bye to A&M” was probably meant as a nothing more than a decree of victory over the Aggies on Thanksgiving.

But thanks to the launch of the polarizing, controversial and potentially historic Longhorn Network today, Texas actually will say goodbye to the Aggies — and maybe to all the rest. Assuming, of course, anybody can actually watch it.

From the outside looking in, the Longhorn Network threatens to change the collegiate landscape for the worst. Its advantages are unfair, its principles are ridiculous. Texas A&M announced today that it would be “exploring options related to the institution’s athletic conference affiliation.” Others could follow.

The 2011 Big 12 Conference Media Days offered a close look at the disdain and disgust that other coaches in the conference had for the idea of the around-the-clock network — most specifically, that it was considering broadcasting high school football games — and that the school planned to broadcast one nonconference game and one conference game, meaning one school would have to agree to appear on the burnt orange-slanted network.

“You’re going to sit there and show high school games?” Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel said at the Media Days. “You’re going to advertise your school on there, where you list all the great recruits you have on there? There’s just no common sense there. That can’t happen. Are you kidding me?”

It was just one of many shots taken at the network.

“I have continued to have concerns about the Longhorn Network since the original announcement by ESPN and Texas,” Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said in a July press release. “The concept of a Longhorn Network broadcasting two live football games — with one of those being a conference game — had not been discussed among the Big 12 athletic directors.”

Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin said the following to the Houston Chronicle in August: “A key to stability, Texas A&M thought, was equal sharing of revenues. When it may appear that one or more of us are receiving different benefits than the others, I believe that takes us in the wrong direction. That’s why we’ve been very concerned about this.”

Even with the NCAA deciding to take a rain check on the network’s request to broadcast high school games, the Aggies still wish to head in another direction, eastbound and possibly down. The greener pastures of the Southeastern Conference — their desired landing spot — allows Texas A&M to no longer be known as Texas’ little brother. However, it might instead become Alabama and Florida’s whipping boy.

“As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the state of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision,” Loftin said.

Because of added recruiting advantages for the Longhorns, other schools would rather take their gigs to other conferences than be cast under Texas’ shadow. But let’s get real: The Longhorns already have huge authority and a prestige recognized all over the country. Texas doesn’t miss out on many recruits — nabbing four top-five recruiting classes in the past five years. The school already has enough advantages.

Consider the possible casualties claimed by the Longhorn Network: a 117-year-old rivalry and all the goodwill the Big 12 has worked so hard at. Also, get ready for a period of detestation stemmed, of course, by jealousy from the rest of the college football world.

No, Texas should not have to allow other schools to dictate how it runs its business. Creating a 20-year, $300 million network breaks new ground in the college landscape. The exposure created has the potential to be incredible. But you can’t help but wonder if the Longhorn Network could ultimately end up being more trouble than it’s worth.

Head coach Mack Brown will lead his team through this season and beyond with a Godzillatron-sized target on their backs. Many are already wondering how a team with a 5-7 record can ink such a deal. Well, it’s Texas. But a few more unsatisfactory seasons, and ESPN might regret putting a spotlight on the UT football program if it can’t get back to its past success.

Brown’s already admitting some fatigue, saying that the first six months “are not going to be easy.”

“They’re paying us $300 million for access, and we got to figure out how much access we can give them and not hurt our chance to have an edge to win the game,” he said at Media Days.

Brown will have to navigate through two shows a week — on top of everything else he has to do — to give the network the appropriate access. Once again, the rewards for this are great.

A new ESPN website, HornsNation.com, features stories and recruiting profiles, and even has a running Twitter feed of tweets from past and current UT athletes.

Just 24 hours ago, a chief issue with the network was that it had yet to come through with an announcement of which cable providers would carry it. So far, that’s slowly being resolved. Verizon FiOS will air the network, Time Warner Cable is likely on its way and DirecTV will probably join the party as well. Texas’ Sept. 3 opener against Rice will be broadcast in New York and Washington D.C. Easy to see why the Aggies, or the Tigers, Bears, Sooners, Cowboys and Red Raiders don’t like the Longhorn Network, and wish that they had their own.

But there are only a few schools that could pull this off. Southern California could, Florida could, pre-scandal Ohio State could. The Longhorns are just the pioneers.

“We’re in a bold new world,” said Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds. “And we’re walking through it.”

So the Longhorn Network will launch today, naysayers be damned. That the network dares to pull this off with the surrounding controversy is an indicator of Texas’ immense power and superiority — the New York Yankees of the college landscape.

Is it worth it? We’ll know in five years. Until then, be prepared to say good-bye to whoever doesn’t like the Longhorns’ new, not-so-secret weapon. Texas doesn’t care. Who needs friends with a network like this? 

Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Bold, controversial; who needs friends with a network like this.