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Conference realignment and Longhorn Network timeline

(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN)

ESPN recently issued the following comment relating to the ongoing topics of conference realignment and Longhorn Network.

“The driving force on realignment lies with the conferences and universities.  The Big 12 determined in 2010 to grant each of its schools the ability to create their own networks.  As a result, the Big 12 stayed together and the University of Texas made the decision to launch its network. ESPN subsequently won a competitive bid to become its media partner. We have since seen Kansas State and Missouri create opportunities while Oklahoma is exploring its media options. The concept of LHN remains the same as it was 15 months ago.”

Below is a timeline with links to news stories relating to these topics that should help clarify and reinforce some important facts and context.

June 2010:

On the heels of Colorado announcing a move to the Pac-10 earlier that same week, Nebraska announces its plan for Big Ten membership. From Business Week:


Chancellor Harvey Perlman disclosed the plan during a meeting of the university’s Board of Regents, proposing that play in the new conference begin in 2011 after one more year in the Big 12. He said he believed Nebraska is more “aligned” with the Big Ten when it comes to academics, culture and athletics.

Read the entire story:

June 2010:

After wide speculation, Texas announces its plan to remain in the Big 12, a key factor in solidifying the conference at the time. Additional points cited as reasons for the conference staying together: individual schools ability to launch their own networks (Texas and Oklahoma both publicly express interest in a network) and Big 12 media rightsholders ESPN and Fox agreeing to certain contractual requests made by the conference.

In ESPN’s case, the company’s statement at the time was:

“The Big 12 approached us asking if we would maintain our current agreement through its term of 2015-16, and we agreed.”

From the Oklahoman:

By staying in the Big 12, both Texas and OU also will be able to move forward with plans for their own network channels, something neither school would have been allowed to do had they relocated to the Pac-10. Something that could bring in millions to both schools.

Read the entire story:

Another story from AOL News had more of a Texas focus, including this quote from Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds:

“We live in athletics, we beat each other on Saturdays and then we love each other on Sundays,” he said. “We live in competition and through that we remain friends. The Big 12 ADs are going to be great, they have always been great. We have our separate schools but those differences are not carried outside so I feel good about the relationships between the schools.”

An additional passage from the story:

The evaluation process revealed to Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech – the five school that all seemed ready to bolt on Friday – that staying in the Big 12 had the least impact on their athletes, produced favorable financial returns and was in the best interest of the conference’s partners and fans.

Read the entire story:

Here are related comments from Texas A&M Director of Athletics Bill Byrne as printed in the Dallas Morning News:

October 2010:

Texas and its media rightsholder IMG consider options for the network, including Fox, ESPN and others. Sports Business Journal captures the competitive bidding process:

IMG College, the Longhorns’ multimedia rights holder, has been in talks with a number of potential partners for several months including Fox and ESPN, industry sources said. IMG is still engaged with ESPN, but a deal between the two is considered more of a long shot, as Fox has emerged as the favorite.

IMG College and Texas intend to select a partner by the end of the month, sources said. The structure of that partnership could take many different forms, but that won’t be determined until after a partner is selected.

Read the entire story:

January 2011:

After winning the rights to the network, ESPN — along with University of Texas and IMG — announce plans for the yet-to-be-named network (later dubbed Longhorn Network). High school games are discussed as one component of the network’s schedule. Among the Iowa State Daily story excerpts below are quotes from Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard:

The network will also broadcast select high school football games from around the state.

There will be an increase in the number of coaches’ shows, coverage of university events and lectures as well as commencement ceremonies.

The increased exposure — particularly for the Olympic sports — should lead to an increase in recruiting for the school’s lesser-known programs. However, Pollard said other Big 12 schools will benefit from appearing on the network in matchups with the Longhorns.

“Texas’ third-tier television rights will give national television exposure to other Big 12 institution’s sports [women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, soccer, etc.] that have not previously been televised,” he said.

During the summer, Texas was nearly lured away from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 in the conference’s efforts to expand to a 16-team “super-conference.” However, the opportunity for an exclusive network was not available in the Pac-10, one of the reasons Texas remained in the Big 12.

The deal will send more than $25 million to UT academics in the next five years, as well, according The Associated Press.

Read the entire story:


May 2011:

Reports outline the Big East’s decision to decline ESPN’s offer for a long-term contract extension. Excerpts from

Only a few weeks ago the Big East nearly committed to a media rights deal with ESPN, multiple sources told CBSSportscom. On Monday, though, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said the league will now wait until closer to 2013 to finalize its media rights when its current contract expires.

Read the entire story:


June 2011:

A Longhorn Network programming executive gives an interview with an Austin radio station and discusses in some detail the previously announced plans for high school games on the network. The specific quotes, which became a publicly debated topic more than a month later, included:

“We’re going to follow the great players in the state. Obviously a kid like Johnathan Gray from Aledo. I know people are going to want to see Johnathan Gray, I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray.

“Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run, whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray. So we’re going to do our best to accommodate them and follow the kids that are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited, is recruiting, and everyone else in the Big 12 is recruiting.”

Listen to the entire interview:

July 2011:

With the Longhorn Network launch just over a month away, the matter of the high school games becomes a focus as does the notion of Longhorn Network televising a second University of Texas football game. In response to the high school issue, the Big 12 announced a temporary hold on the planned games pending further review. An excerpt of Dallas Morning News’ coverage:

Commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary compromise Wednesday. Telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network are now on hold, pending decisions by the NCAA and the Big 12 about how to handle school and conference networks.

Read the entire story:

Statement from ESPN about high school games:

“We recognize more discussion needs to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference.  This is uncharted territory for all involved so it’s logical for everyone to proceed carefully.  Longhorn Network will televise unprecedented coverage of more than 200 UT athletics events annually plus a variety of dynamic, relevant programming.”

July 2011:

A Houston Chronicle report outlines how despite the fact that ESPN’s programming department has business relationships with University of Texas, the company’s news division is suing the University of Texas:

At 32nd Street and Interstate 35 in Austin, site of the under-construction studios of the Longhorn Network, ESPN and the University of Texas are business partners.

About 2½ miles to the southwest, ESPN and the UT System are litigants, aligned on opposite sides of a lawsuit filed in the Travis County Courthouse at 10th Street and Guadalupe.


Read the entire story:

August 2011:

A few weeks later, the NCAA announces its interpretation about the high school games issue. The Austin American-Statesmen reported:

The NCAA made official Thursday what most suspected would happen: It won’t allow programming involving high school athletics on university- or conference-affiliated television networks. That means the new Longhorn Network’s plans to carry about 18 high school football games on Thursdays and Saturdays have been scuttled.

Read the entire story:

ESPN’s response:

“As we’ve said all along, we will work with all involved to comply with the rules and regulations they have set forth.  High school programming was never the primary component of Longhorn Network’s wide-ranging offerings.”

August 2011:

ESPN re-states publicly (outlined in this Houston Chronicle story) how reporting on high school news was separate from televising high school games and continues to be part of the plans for Longhorn Network:

Read the entire story:

A week later, the NCAA issues a comment focusing on news coverage of high school sports on Longhorn Network. Here is a report from FanNation:

The NCAA on Friday issued a statement that may clear the way for the airing of high school football highlights on the Longhorn Network. “The NCAA is monitoring content on the Longhorn Network and its new coverage of high school sports,” the statement read. “With respect to NCAA bylaws — acceptable content is limited to scores, statistics, standings and news video used to report those details. “We will continue to monitor the Longhorn Network to determine if the content is produced within those guidelines.”

Read the entire story:


August 26, 2011:

Longhorn Network launches.

September 2011

Days after launching, Longhorn Network announces that the Kansas at Texas game (Oct. 29) will be the second University of Texas football game on the network in the 2011 season.  USA Today reported:

One day before broadcasting its first Texas game, the Longhorn Network signed an agreement with Kansas to show this season’s game between the schools on Oct. 29.

According to Texas, the arrangement for a Big 12 game on the network was “based upon the approval process that the Big 12 Board of Directors determined last month.”

Read the entire story:

September 15, 2011

In another example of ESPN’s separating journalism from its business relationships, ESPN’s Outside the Lines breaks a story about how Cleve Bryant, University of Texas’ longtime associate athletics director for football operations, was dismissed from the university last March because a university investigation determined he made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward a female administrative assistant over a two-year period. The story is also reported on Longhorn Network.

Read the entire story:


September 2011:

A flurry of conference-related news comes out, including Texas A&M’s announcement to leave the Big 12 & the SEC formally inviting the school to join the conference plus an announcement by the ACC that Pittsburgh and Syracuse have accepted invitations to join.

September 22, 2011:

In an effort to solidify its future, the Big 12 announces changes, including the end of Dan Beebe’s term as commissioner: Below is an excerpt from a Tulsa World Q&A with Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis in wake of that news:

Was there a time in the last two weeks during which you felt destined for membership in the Pac-12 or another conference?

Hargis: “No. I never really thought it was over, but I knew it was going to be really complicated. It ended up being easier than I envisioned. I think people deep down are committed to this league and each other, and really wanted to find a way to move forward.”

Read the entire story:

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