Monthly Archives: November 2011

Death By A Thousand Cuts: The Second Wave

By Joe Glover
Storm’s A ‘Comin

By the end of Summer 2011, conference realignment talks started heating up again. In July, it became obvious that Texas A&M was intent on leaving the Big XII. After a conversation with Baylor’s Athletic Director, Texas A&M’s Athletic Director wrote this email entitled, “Death By A Thousand Cuts“. In the email, he outlined what he found to be the most egregious violations committed by the University of Texas and the Longhorn Network. Specifically in point seven when he wrote…

ESPN is pushing hard to help tu (Texas) recruit high school prospects. They along with tu lobbying the NCAA hard to get an interpretation that permits high school games on the Longhorn Network… We worry about ESPN financial ties to the NCAA, worry about tu personal ties to NCAA staff.

A few quick things to take away from this quote. The first is obviously the amount of disdain Texas A&M has for both ESPN and Texas. The fact that he is openly referring to Texas as “tu”, instead of the more typical “UT” is dripping with it. The second thing that should not get overlooked is the fact that he just puts out into the open that the flow from University to NCAA goes directly through ESPN. So the fact that Texas A&M wants to leave the Big XII could be blocked by the NCAA, which could be blocked by ESPN. A very real scenario since the Longhorn Network obviously has less appeal now that the annual rivalry game between the two schools would no longer exist. If you’re a college football fan though, the leadoff to that quote is what should be putting chills up your spine. “ESPN is pushing hard to help (Texas) recruit high school prospects.” Just to make sure we have this all clear, ESPN, the most powerful name and network in sports history is openly recruiting for Texas.

Side Note: [The other cool thing to take away from this, is that if you’re the athletic director for Texas A&M, you give your emails awesome names. This practice is actually pretty sweet.]

You tell 'em Bill

Getting Busy (And by Busy, I Mean Cockblocked)

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and on September 2nd, the commissioner of the Big XII Dan Beebe sent this letter to commissioner of the SEC Mike Silve assuring him that if Texas A&M truly was intent on leaving the conference, because of their anger with the Longhorn Network, then they were welcome to leave.

With that assurance out of the way, on September 5th, Texas A&M put its intentions down on paper. While little of what is said in the document is news or noteworthy, what should stand out is the fact that they have now publicly thrown it out there that they are officially, and formally (as opposed to rumors and backdoor meetings) looking to leave one conference for another.

The only problem with all of this? You may recall when Dan Beebe wrote,

the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors unanimously authorized me to convey to you and their colleagues in the Southeastern Conference that the Big 12 and its members will not take any legal action for any possible claims against the SEC or its members relating to the departure of Texas A&M University from the Big 12

It turns out that that wasn’t completely true. As it luck would have it, the day before Baylor made public their intentions to sue Texas A&M to try and block the move, Baylor President Ken Starr sent this email to Texas A&M’s President R. Bowen Loftin, begging asking that they reconsider. Whatever was spoken in that telephone conference was never made public, but the next day Baylor launched a Public Relations campaign that reached epically comical proportions. Entitled “Don’t Mess With Texas Football” where they attempted to publicly shame Texas A&M into staying by saying gems like, “Will Texans sit and watch as Texas’ flagship universities pledge their loyalties to other states?” They had absolutely no problem with a Texas flagship university pledging their loyalty to a television network, but God Forbid they pledge their loyalty to another state!

Okay, Foreals This Time

While all of this was playing out in the Lone Star State, the East Coast was starting to get antsy. (Perhaps New Englanders were worried about too many stories being posted about people other than them, who knows?) In any event, on September 18th, suddenly out of left-field came the announcement that the University of Pittsburg and Syracuse University would be leaving the Big East, and joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.

While that seemed shocking, the real shock came when Boston College University Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo decided he’d give his opinions about the conference realignment that was sweeping across the nation. In an article with the Boston Globe, DeFilippo finally said what everyone had largely been suspecting. From the Boston Globe,

The overwhelming force behind the move, DeFilippo insisted, was television money… The ACC just signed a new deal with ESPN that will increase the revenue for each school to approximately $13 million. With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, said DeFilippo, another significant increase will come… We always keep our television partners close to us, you don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.

Again, it’s moments precisely like this one that mandates we stop for a moment and ponder just what was said. “ESPN is the one who told us what to do.” We’re talking about an Athletic director from a major East Coast university not wanting to vote into the conference two other members, but being ordered otherwise by a television network. And they did it! ESPN has now succeeded in ripping apart two of the four major conferences that they own. The other two, the ACC and the SEC being the direct beneficiaries. It seems that ESPN has determined to cannibalize itself for the sake of television football dollars.

Back to Leaving Texas

On September 26th, word became official that Texas A&M would finally leave Texas and the Longhorn Network behind them, and become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference. The 18 month battle with the self proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports was finally behind them.

This billboard was placed next to Baylor University's campus by a group of wealthy Texas A&M donors. Only in Texas.


While final for those three teams, it would not be the final domino to fall. For that we look to the final installment, part 5. A Tentative and Temporary Truce

References
1. Death By A Thousand Cuts
2. Bill Murray, “Who’s Awesome?”
3. Dan Beebe Letter
4. TAMU Intent to Leave Letter
5. Baylor to Sue TAMU
6. Starr Letter to Loftin
7. Baylor: Don’t Mess With Texas Football
8. Conference Realignment Summary Video
9. Announcement (Pitt and Syracuse)
10. Gene DeFilippo interview
11. TAMU Officially Leaving
12. TAMU and God Billboard

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Awakening the Sleeping Giant: The First Wave

Rumors

In early 2010, rumors became prevalent that there was something in the works between the University of Texas and ESPN about creating their own network dedicated to exclusive content similar to the network that Brigham Young University provides their base. This obviously was sufficient enough to cause concern between the haves and the have nots, threatening to expand this divide even further.

In March of 2010, the Big 10 was sitting stagnant with 11 teams. The conference publicly “leaked” a list of possible candidates to add to the conference to provide the coveted 12th member necessary for a conference championship game, and all of the additional revenue that goes along with it. This is controlled by NCAA Rule 17.9.5.2 (c) which states, “Twelve-Member Conference Championship Game. [FBS/FCS] A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division…”

The five schools were, “Notre Dame, Missouri, Pittsburg, Syracuse, and Rutgers”. Each of those from media markets of substantial size and following.

Image courtesy of tonightsforecastdark.blogspot.com


Notre Dame, through its status as an “Independent”, was reluctant to give that up, but the athletic director Jack Swarbrick admitted that “there is probably not a long standing status quo anymore“.

Dan Beebe, the commissioner for the Big XII conference was obviously concerned about losing a charter member such as Missouri or Nebraska and as such on May 13th, issued this strongly worded statement.

We need to come to terms with (who is leaving) and we need to have a frank conversation in Kansas City. We need to talk about where we’re going and who’s on the plane when it takes off. I will be very direct and talk about that with our membership. We’ve got a lot of good things in store for us if we stick together. It would be a shame, given that all boats have risen with this tide by the Big XII, that they think they can have a better future somewhere else.

Additionally, Beebe made it perfectly clear that this “high tide” that he was referring to was raised by the biggest boat in the water. Whatever the University of Texas, and the rumored Longhorn Network wished to do, they were free to engage in. This massive disparity concerned the University of Nebraska and the University of Colorado enough that they requested a private meeting with the commissioner. What was said at the meeting was never made public, but less than three weeks later, the first domino would fall.

The Cold War Gets Hot

Image courtesy of Military Humor OPFOR

On June 10th, 2010 Colorado announced that it was leaving for the Pac-10. The very next day after Colorado announced its departure from the conference, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents announced its acceptance to become the 12th member of the Big 10. The Big XII was now down to ten, and full on panic mode ensued.

The first step for the Big XII would be to rally the remaining schools, and try as hard as they could to try and keep them. Unfortunately for them, the Pac-10 had other ideas. The Conference board of regents sensing the blood of a wounded animal in the air, created and offered a lucrative collective package to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech to join together with Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State to create what would be the Pacific Coast Conference East, with Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, UCLA, and USC in the West. All of the schools in the proposed Eastern half voted to accept the offer, except Texas. Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-10 conference gave the collective group until June 15th to make their decision.

For Texas, the interest was there. They felt that this was going to be a pivotal, and positive move, but there was a major caveat to the offer. If the University of Texas wanted to join the Pacific Coast Conference, it was going to have to give up their new television network. Ultimately Texas felt that it would be far better to go into a relationship with ESPN, and on June 14th, turned down the realignment offer.

Following The Money

In order to fill the void, and bring in the twelfth member, the Pac-10 invited in the University of Utah, and announced they would officially be rebranded the Pac-12 on June 17th. Fans and people at all levels were understandably (and not so understandably) upset.

As the rest of the summer cooled off, so too did any further expansion talks. The Big XII was able to get at least a temporary stay of execution, and everyone publicly declaring that most was forgiven, and in general that we should all be looking to execute one collective hug. ESPN, for their part stayed quiet.
From a much more cynical approach, the Chancellor of Louisiana State University was quoted as saying, “I think we could end up with two enormous conferences, one called ESPN and the one called Fox.”

Up next, Part 4. Wave Two

References
1. leaked information
2. NCAA Rulebook
3. tonightsforecastdark cartoon
4. Swarbrick Interview
5. Beebe Quote
6. Unicorns!
7. Colorado Leaving
8. Realignment Map (Made by me)
9. Fan Video Comp.
10. Dr. Lou’s Incoherent thoughts
11. LSU Chancellor Quote

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Pt. 2 The Ins and Outs of the Longhorn Network

By Joe Glover
As we saw at the end of Pt. 1, we were taking a look at how much influence the University of Texas, and ESPN were going to have by getting into bed with each other.

*image courtesy of Occupy Herbstreit

But What Is It Exactly?

Okay, so obviously it’s a TV Channel, created with the idea of growing both ESPN, and the University of Texas’ brand through a partnership, but we’re talking about a public academic institution, now being able to go into bed exclusively with the self proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” to the tune of $26 Million a year for the next thirty years. But isn’t ESPN just a (Really Big) TV Network? Not hardly. Taking a look at who’s really behind ESPN isn’t hard. As it turns out, ESPN is owned by ABC, which in turn is owned by the Walt Disney Corporation. Essentially, with a well written contract, Bevo just grew mouse ears (sponsored by the Home Depot, and narrated by Matthew McConaughey).

The Writing Is On The Wall Contract

Apparently, the idea of the Big XII Conference being okay with having to listen to demands by ESPN/Disney was foreshadowed by both the school and the network as being potentially problematic. Enough so that there was built-in language into the contract in the event that Texas left the conference.

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary… in the event that UT determines during the Term, to become a member of an athletics conference other that the Big 12 Conference or not to participate in any athletics conference, UT agrees to continue to grant and provide to ESPN the Television Rights set forth in this Agreement.

So much for any notion of autonomy. In other words, if the University of Texas decided that it wanted to join the Pac-12, and the the conference said that it was conditional upon abolishing the network, ESPN would now have legal rights to block the move. Unless of course they were to join the South Eastern Conference, which coincidentally also has given the full rights to broadcasting to ESPN. The parent network also has full television rights to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and that move was predicted by the blogosphere. Does anyone really think that a commissioner from a conference that has an exclusive contract with ESPN would have the ability to tell the University of Texas to shed its own ESPN contract?

ESPN Now Controls Non-Athletic Content

Try this on for size.

The parties acknowledge and agree that the Network… will be the primary and first priority distribution outlets for all audio video distribution of UT live… All UT non-athletic content (e.g., textile department’s fashion show, classroom lectures, commencement exercises, etc.), whether Network Content or otherwise, without restriction.

That, if you’re at all confused, is the University of Texas turning over full television rights to classroom lectures, and commencement exercises to ESPN. In fact, later on in the contract it states that a full 10% of the network’s content will consist of non-athletic programming. Essentially a minimum of three hours a day will now be broadcasting classroom lectures. Think professors will feel okay criticizing anything Disney or ESPN related while having a camera directly in their faces? You can bet that department heads have already given their professors a talking to about what will and will not be allowed. If not, lets see what the contract states.

In the event that UT reasonably determines that any on-air talent does not reflect the quality and reputation desired by UT for the Network based upon inappropriate statements made or actions taken by such talent and so notifies ESPN, ESPN will cause such talent to be promptly replaced.

Well there it is. Speak out against ESPN or the University itself while on camera, and out the door you go.

Amazingly, all of this has not been the cause for the outrage. The real outrage comes from section 2.A.vii and a few choice comments how both the network and the University of Texas interpreted its content.

Section 2.A.vii

    High School Championships

UT Athletics and IMG will use their respective best efforts to assist ESPN in obtaining the rights to telecast the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Championships on the Network and the Digital Network following the expiration of the initial term of the currently contemplated rightsholder’s agreement with the UIL.

By itself, you’re not really saying anything offensive. ESPN is putting into writing that once the contract for Texas High School Championships comes up for grabs, the University of Texas will flex all possible political muscle to secure it for ESPN. Considering the amount of attention given to Texas High School Football, this shouldn’t come as a shock. But if you’ll recall from my last post, the interview that was given by ESPN-UT Vice President Dave Brown…

We’re going to follow the great [high school] players in the state. Obviously a kid like [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Johnathan Gray. I know people [Longhorn Network subscribers] are going to want to see Johnathan Gray, I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray.

Feedback 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 accomodate them [Longhorn Network subscribers] and follow the kids who are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited and is recruiting and everyone else the Big 12 is recruiting.

“One other thing, you may see us, I know there’s a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene in Austin.

What you just read, is how 2.A.vii was interpreted by ESPN executives as to what sort of power they would be able to have. If you notice though, he’s not just talking about the state of Texas. He’s also talking about dropping into Arizona to say hello to future Texas recruits, simultaneously letting the entire high school football world know that if you want to get on television in high school, you need to commit to the University of Texas.

The monopoly put into place would send shockwaves through the world of collegiate athletics.

Up next, pt.3 examines Enough is Enough

References
1. Occupy Herbstreit
2. Who Owns Whom?
3. College Gameday
4. Prediction #5
5. LHN License Agreement (Conference Realignment Pg. 5)
6. LHN License Agreement (Non-Athletic Control Pg. 4)
7. LHN License Agreement (On-Air Talent Pg. 10)
8. LHN License Agreement (High School Championships Pg. 5)
9. Dave Brown Interview
10. Matthew McConaughey

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