Big 12 eyes still focused on Longhorns and network

By Stephen Hawkins

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 25 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel answers questions during Big 12 Media Days, Monday, July 25, 2011, in Dallas.

Matt Strasen, Associated Press

DALLAS — All the eyes are still on Texas in the slimmed-down Big 12 Conference, though for some different reasons this time.

The Longhorns are coming off their first losing season in 13 years under coach Mack Brown, who has new offensive and defensive coordinators and is still unsure who his quarterback will be.

What is also being watched by other Big 12 teams is how much extra exposure, and potential advantage, Texas will have when its own 24-hour cable network debuts next month.

"I'm sure people will watch that," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said Monday. "We'll have half a million Aggies watching it and we'll have the Big 12 watching it, and the advantage and disadvantage thereof."

Sherman was the first coach at the podium for Big 12 media days — half of the 10 teams appeared Monday; preseason league favorite Oklahoma is among the five teams on Tuesday's schedule. The first question Sherman was asked was about the possible impact of the Longhorn Network on high school and college recruiting.

"Truthfully, I'm just focusing on what I've got to do and with my job, and let's win our first game," he said. "I'm sure you all can sort that one out yourselves."

Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who has long had concerns about the Longhorn Network, said Monday that athletic directors and Big 12 staff will be meeting "within the next few weeks."

When there reports last week that Texas might show one of its conference games as well as football games on its subscription-based network, Byrne issued a statement that "our concerns were heightened further" and that questions remained even after Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said that there would be no high school content on the network until conference members have a chance to consider all the issues.

Byrne, just back from an Alaska vacation, said he had been advised that he "should play nice and not say any more." He said would do that — for now.

NCAA presidents could also address such issues during a retreat with NCAA president Mark Emmert next month in Indianapolis.

"It's a lack of common sense there to think that the network, the university network, can have high school games," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "I'll leave that to some other people to make those decisions."

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told The Associated Press last week that Longhorns officials were aware of the concerns among Texas rivals that the 20-year, $300 million network deal struck with ESPN earlier this year gives them a recruiting advantage and too much power over the rest of the league.

The network is scheduled to launch Aug. 26, a week before the Longhorns' season opener against Rice that will be shown on the channel.

The ability to start its own network was a key factor in Texas remaining in the Big 12 last summer, when Nebraska said it was going to the Big Ten and Colorado went to the Pac 10, since renamed the Pac-12. Those moves became official July 1.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he began to wonder when he heard about the possibility of high school games on the Longhorn Network.

"I would agree that my antenna went up when I started to hear that information," Gundy said. "I have faith in the athletic directors in the league and the Big 12 that we'll make the right decision in that area."

As for the actual football, the Sooners got 41 of 43 first-place votes in a preseason poll of media who cover the Big 12. Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Missouri were all picked to finish ahead of Texas, which was 5-7 last year after going to the BCS national championship game the previous season.

Brown said the network is a "real positive" for the Longhorns and credited Texas administrators for the ESPN partnership.

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