The future of televised high school sports may be altered dramatically within the next two weeks. On the heels of New York City's Public School Athletic League inking a $500,000 two year pact with Cablevision's MSG Varsity network, budding college sports networks are expressing interest in broadcasting high school games themselves.
Mock television set for the new Longhorn Network
According to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman, the newly formed (and set to debut in September) Longhorn Network has already inquired about televising Texas high school sports events. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as soon as the Longhorn Network made its interest in prep sports events known, the Pac-12 Conference made public its interest in showing high school contests on its own, soon-to-be launched network, the appropriately named Pac-12 Network (which will actually be broadcast across seven "independent" channels).
"We have an interest," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the Statesman. "If the Longhorn Network is allowed to do it, we'll do it from the get-go."
While ESPN has long televised high school games on different networks in its larger sports network family -- a host of games across different sports are shown on ESPNU, while some highlighted games are occasionally shown on ESPN2 and many more are broadcast online at ESPN3.com -- the more concerted foray into gaining official regional rights by separate college networks could create a bidding war to televise games from some sought-after markets. For instance, it seems likely that both the SEC and ACC might be interested in gaining rights to some of the same southern states should either (or, more likely, both) launch full-fledged networks of their own in the near future.
Similarly, the Mountain West Network and Pac-12 Network could easily jostle for control of Southern California rights, where broadcasting high school games could give either conference an apparent edge in visibility among some high school athletes.
Yet, the last part of that equation is precisely what could hold these agreements up. According to the Statesman, the Longhorn Network will officially present its case for broadcasting high school games at a forthcoming NCAA summit on August 22. Three members of the Texas athletic department -- which will split revenue from the Longhorn Network with ESPN, it's network partner -- will be at the summit, attempting to prove that broadcasting high school games will not necessarily give Texas an undue recruiting advantage over other schools which don't have their own television network.
Considering the fact that Texas is currently the only school that does have its own network, that might prove more than a little bit tricky.
The NCAA's judgement on this barometer issue could go a long way toward clearing up whether future rights battles for high school sports do unfold at all. However, if they do clear the way for the Longhorn Network to show prep games in the August 22 meeting, it might be the forebear of much needed windfalls heading to high school athletic departments in any number of parts of the country.
"It's a significant policy question in front of the NCAA whether this is consistent and OK with recruiting rules," Scott told the Statesman. "I'm glad they are being proactive and glad they are going to take a comprehensive and strategic look for everybody and not do it on a case-by-case basis."