Memo to NCAA: it’s beyond time to address the ESPN/Texas relationship

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In  January of this year, ESPN and the University of Texas announced the official creation of what would come to be called the Longhorn Network, an endeavor that would initially entitle UT to an estimated $300 million over 20 years from the WWL.

For that money, ESPN would also provide a reported $400 million in production value in exchange for content that ranged from one or two UT football games a year to basketball to Olympic sports to “non-athletic fare like musical performances, plays, and documentaries by faculty members and students” to high school football games in the state of Texas to… wait… what?  Televising potential football recruits on a television network dedicated to a single university?  Yeah, some individuals who would be impacted by that development took issue with the prep aspect of things.

“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,” Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said a week after UT made their announcement. “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.”

Unbelievably, this high school issue as it relates to the Longhorn Network is still in play, and even more unbelievably a vice president of programming from ESPN has found the gall/balls to trumpet the high school aspect of the arrangement with the University of Texas in an on-air, on-the-record interview with an Austin radio station.  SportsByBrooks.com — follow him @SPORTSbyBROOKS if you’re into the Twitter thing — has a partial transcript of ESPN Programming VP Dave Brown‘s interview on KZNX-FM conducted last month.  And, to say the least, the hubris of the high-ranking WWL official is astounding:

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

“Feedback from our audience is they just want to see Jonathan Gray run whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Jonathan Gray. So we’re going to do our best to accommodate 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.

In summation, a VP of the company that’s involved in a business relationship with a university is openly proclaiming the virtues of top recruits who have yet to sign Letters of Intent and how good they would look on the network and OMG I can’t wait to see Jonathan Gray LOL  smh.

The fact that the high school football talk has gone on unfettered for the better part of six months with nary a public response/rebuke from the NCAA is unimaginable.  The fact that ESPN is very publicly braying about high school prospects is unconscionable — but not nearly as unconscionable as the NCAA allowing this discussion half a year after it should’ve been shutdown to continue on.  And even as the director of UT athletics brazenly espouses “a first-class way, in the light of day, and we will do it the right way” tack of dealing with the Longhorn Network televising high school football games.

And, if the NCAA decides to continue sitting on its hands when it comes to the UT/ESPN/high school football relationship?  The Association needs to never again bring sanctions against any Div. 1-A football program for “recruiting violations”.  Simply put, if televising potential in-state — and specifically targeted out-of-state — recruits on your own television network is not a violation, how could The Association ever again look any school in the eyes in the future and accuse them of doing something illicit in gaining an advantage in recruiting?

This is an interesting precipice on which the NCAA is currently standing.  One way or the other, and for better or worse, their next move will be fascinating to watch.