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Vai's View: Jealousy abounds over BYU, Texas network deals

Published: Friday, Aug. 5 2011 11:24 a.m. MDT

In this file photo taken Dec. 18, 2010, JJ Di Luigi of BYU, at right, runs for yardage as he is pulled down by Jeremy Springer of UTEP.

Ravell Call, Deseret News archives

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Some of you may have missed the little blurb in Sports Illustrated recently about the dust up in the Big 12 Conference over the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network. Seems the rest of the conference isn't thrilled that UT's television network will gain an unfair advantage with recruits by televising Texas high school football games, much less its own games.

The commish of the Big 12 has issued a moratorium on the Longhorn Network televising Texas high school games until conference members meet to hash out a resolution.

According to the article by Michael Rosenberg, Texas had threatened last year to leave the Big 12, which has a $90 million-a-year TV contract with Fox, but stayed because the conference "gave them the freedom to cut their own (TV) deal," which it did with ESPN.

Now, there's turmoil within the ranks because Texas has its own television network.

Sound familiar?

Care to wager that folks in Austin, Texas, will be tuning in to BYU-TV this fall and not just for "Scrapbook Memories" or "Living Essentials?" They'll be watching closely because if BYU is successful at marketing its own brand, co-oping with ESPN on televising its games as an independent, don't you think Texas will bolt the Big 12 at some point?

Despite the many advantages of conference membership, if you have your own TV network, you're bound to draw suspicion if not the envy of your peers.

Texas' troubles in the Big 12 with the Longhorn Network are just beginning.

As has been mentioned a gazillion times, Notre Dame is the ideal independent, but the Irish had the luxury of having its own network deal with NBC and of course being, well, Notre Dame.

What Notre Dame doesn't have and didn't have to have, is an on-campus television network, which Texas and BYU have. Clearly, not everyone has that luxury, but BYU and Texas do.

Here's the thing: they're not alone. Two immediately come to mind — the University of Missouri and Syracuse — because they're in BCS conferences that seem in perpetual turmoil, unlike the stable SEC, Big 10, or Pac-12.

Missouri, of the Big 12, owns and operates the only on-campus commercial-run television station in the U.S. — KOMO-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, Mo. It has the infrastructure to pull it off.

Syracuse, of the Big East, owns the Orange Television Network, which boasts the nation's first student cable TV station broadcast in HD-TV. The Newhouse School of broadcast journalism is regarded among the best in the field and turn out a steady stream of the industry's finest and a huge alumni base in broadcasting including Bob Costas, Mike Tirico, Marv Albert, Sean McDonough, and Dick Stockton.

Now conferences are creating their own networks — the Pac-12 just joined the Big 10 in that realm.

It was just a matter of time before the colleges recognized what the pros have been doing.

The reason the New York Yankees are the New York Yankees is because of the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, which used to be Cablevision — the teams own cash cow. It allows them to renew Alex Rodriquez, keep Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and sign CC Sabathia and power hitter Mark Teixeira.

Cable giant Comcast Spectacor, based in Philadelphia, figured it out and purchased the Philadelphia 76ers to pair with the NHL Flyers to create content for its local cable programming. It hasn't worked out quite as well as it has in New York for the Yankees. Comcast is dumping the 76ers after years of unsuccessfully trying to add the Phillies in an attempt to bolster its lineup and corner the Philly sports market.

In fact, in today's sports climate, the accompanying cable network is almost a prerequisite when a franchise is sold. Such was the case with the sale of the Boston Red Sox along with the New England Sports Network and the pending Los Angeles Dodgers sale with Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Net 2.

Utahn Dave Checketts, who owns Real Salt Lake and the NHL's St. Louis Blues and has tried to buy the Rams, I believe, is trying to model the YES Network — pair franchises with cable networks.

Why do you think the NFL created the NFL Network? TV is the golden goose and schools, conferences and sports leagues are seeing the opportunity to own more than just the broadcast rights; they want to own the broadcast to boot.

Everybody wants to create or enhance their brand, tailor their message, reach the masses and reap the rewards. That’s why BYU, BYU-TV, and their ESPN partnership will be monitored so closely by so many.

Vai Sikahema is the Sports Director and Anchor for NBC10 Philadelphia and host of the "Vai & Gonzo Show" on ESPN Philadelphia Radio. He is a two-time All-Pro, two-time Emmy Award winner and was a member of BYU's 1984 National Championship team.

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