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.
“It was available to everybody, and they pulled it off,” Brown said. “I didn’t think they could do it. I kept hearing about it for the last couple of years and I never dreamed that it would happen. … I’m glad we have that advantage.”
Adding to an advantage the Longhorns have had for a long time.
“Do I worry about? Not a bit. I mean, they’re pretty hard to recruit against anyway,” said Baylor coach Art Briles, whose team is coming off its first bowl game in 16 years. “They can do it. If there’s a need for it, people are going to pay for it, more power to them. Let them have it.”
Brown doesn’t think showing high school games on the network would impact recruiting for Texas. He said most of the 20-25 high school players the Longhorns sign each year commit before their junior seasons.
He believes instead that televising such games provides exposure to high schools and gives players the chance to be seen by other programs.
“I think the people that would be hurt if you don’t show high school games will be the high school coach, the players who 99 percent will not even play college football,” Brown said. “My gosh, the Big 12 is full of Texas high school football players. So if you think about it, there would be a lot more prospects from the other teams in the Big 12 on the network than the ones from Texas.”
What Brown has concerns about is how much access the network gets to preparing his team.
“It’s not going to be an easy partnership, because they’re paying us $300 million for access,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how much access we can give them and not hurt our chance to have an edge to win the game.”
A network official wanted to show the Longhorns’ first scrimmage.
“And I said, `Yeah, Oklahoma, A&M, Kansas, Texas Tech, they’re going to be sitting there grading our practice as we do it,”’ Brown said. “We can’t do that.”
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