Last week the University of Texas announced a 20-year, $300 million partnership with ESPN that will lead to the creation of a nationally-televised cable channel devoted to the interests of the Univ. of Texas athletic department.
(So why would they broadcast football and basketball games anyway?)
But contrary to popular perception, Texas and ESPN plan to offer an “extensive” menu of sports programming that doesn’t include the school’s sports teams. More specifically, as detailed in the Texas-ESPN Network press release last week, the Univ. of Texas network will, “provide fans, students and parents with access to extensive Texas high school sports, including football, basketball and more, through this centralized home.”***
Snuck into the bottom of the Texas-ESPN official announcement, here’s the whole paragraph:
High School Coverage
ESPN will also create and operate a new, authenticated online/broadband site that will aspire to broadly aggregate content from around the state. It will provide fans, students and parents with access to extensive Texas high school sports, including football, basketball and more, through this centralized home.
Say Texas is pursuing a top high school football prospect in the state. If you were running the Longhorns TV Network, might it cross your mind to try to televise games involving that recruit on your nationally-distributed, Univ. of Texas-branded cable channel?
Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair said of the possibility, “If (Baylor hoops star) Brittney Griner was coming out of high school today, and all of a sudden they (Univ. of Texas TV network) decided to televise eight of her home games, don’t you think that would put Texas a leg up in recruiting?”
I suppose you could call that a matter of opinion. Maybe. Sorta.
But what isn’t up for debate is the current NCAA rule on the books that forbids such an arrangement from taking place.
NCAA Rule 13.10.3. as noted by Michael Rosenberg of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:
Radio/TV Show. A member institution shall not permit a prospective student-athlete or a high school, college preparatory school or two-year college coach to appear, be interviewed or otherwise be involved (in person or via film, audio tape or videotape) on:
(a) A radio or television program conducted by the institution’s coach;
(b) A program in which the institution’s coach is participating; or
(c) A program for which a member of the institution’s athletics staff has been instrumental in arranging for the appearance of the prospective student-athlete or coach or related program material.
In a conference call with the media last night, Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne said of the Univ. of Texas-branded television network airing high school games:
“I can’t speak for the NCAA, but I would imagine the governing body will look into the use of a collegiate television network airing games of prospective student-athletes. I understand networks such as FSN and ESPN airing high school sports, but whether or not employees under contract with a university that may have additional contact would seem to be an issue.”
Today I asked ESPN about the NCAA rule ramifications of the Texas Network airing high school games. ESPN Vice President of Communications Josh Krulewitz sent me this statement in response:
“As we said during the announcement of the network, the programming schedule will combine extensive UT sports content with culturally relevant programming. To that end, given the importance of high school sports in Texas, we expect some high school content (TBD) to be a part of the lineup. In doing so, we intend to work closely with University of Texas to ensure the network operates in full compliance of NCAA rules and regulations.”
So what makes a high school football team or game “culturally relevant”?
Understand that ESPN has more experience at managing conflicts of interest than any other media outlet in history, seeing as its core business model is based on its financial relationships (broadcast rights agreements) with pro and college leagues and teams. In other words, not a second of ESPN television programming on any platform traverses your headhole without containing some manner of conflict of interest.
As ESPN is now faced with these sorts of inconvenient outcroppings on a daily basis, the network has its response to such issues down pat:
If only we had a choice.
***UPDATE: Krulewitz tells me the paragraph in the ESPN-Texas release about high school sports will be a separate, broadband (web) service.
But if that’s the case, why does everyone think high school games will be aired on the Texas TV network - since that’s not indicated in the ESPN-Texas release?
Follow Brooks on Twitter for real-time updates.