ESPN completes purchase of Longhorns with $300 million deal

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Back in November, the Texas Board of Regents gave UT president William Powers the authority to pursue the creation of the Longhorn Network.

That months-long flirtation reached its climax Wednesday, and presumably there will be many a UT official puffing on a Marlboro in the consummation’s money-green afterglow.

First reported by the Sports Business Daily Tuesday, and later confirmed by the Austin American-Statesman, Texas has reached an agreement with ESPN on a 20-year, $300 million deal that will create a 24-hour television channel devoted to all things Texas Longhorns.

As the agreement was negotiated by IMG College, the Longhorns’ multimedia rights holder, UT will actually realize annual compensation of roughly $12.5 a year from the ESPN deal after IMG takes their cut.  The first years, however, UT will be forced to “get by” on “just” $10 million a year.  Combined with the Big 12-ish’s network deals — UT’s share is not impacted by the new side deal with ESPN — UT stands to rake in at least $30 million a year just from those two deals.

“We see this as a very important part of sort of continuing to reinvent the models through which we do business,” Powers said. “This is reflective of being much more creative in how public higher education positions itself as we go forward, even aside from the athletics.”

Unbelievably, ESPN is paying $15 million a year — plus committing $400 million in production value according to the SBD — and will only televise one, maybe two football games a year.  Other programming on the Longhorn Network (ESPNUT?) will include, the American-Statesman writes, a larger but unspecified number of men’s basketball games and a variety of other men’s and women’s sports, including volleyball and swimming.  Then there’s this beauty:

Non-athletic fare is likely to run for about three hours a day and include musical performances, plays, and documentaries by faculty members and students, Powers said. Details are yet to be worked out.

“This will be high-level, entertaining cultural, music, scientific, Discovery Channel, History Channel kind of stuff,” Powers said. “And we have a team put together working on it, and that will be done in collaboration with ESPN.”

What, no “Austin City Limits” or “Walker, Texas Ranger” reruns?

The new network is scheduled to officially launch this coming fall.  As far as distribution is concerned, it’s expected to appear on basic cable platforms in Texas, Oklahoma and possibly parts of Louisiana, and in premium packages throughout the rest of the country.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.