Media Days again contentious for Big 12

DALLAS – As if the Longhorn Network wasn’t enough, reporters at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday learned that another conference-related TV network would be hitting the airwaves sometime within the next year.

Bob Stoops joined the criticism of the Longhorn Network as the Big 12 Media Days wound down.
(Matt Strasen/AP)

The Travis Lewis Network.

“If Texas can have their own network, I want mine,” said Lewis, Oklahoma’s star linebacker. “We’ll call it ‘TLN.’ I’m going to have king crab fishing and alligator wrestling on there. It’s going to appeal to a bunch of different audiences.”

Lewis’ light-hearted comments provided a moment of comic relief during an otherwise tension-filled afternoon of discussions about the ESPN-operated Longhorn Network.

One day after Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and Baylor coach Art Briles declined to conduct interviews with network reporters, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops expressed displeasure with the direction of the network, which is attempting to broadcast high school football games from the Lone Star State.

“The lifeblood of every program is recruiting,” Stoops said. “We either all play by the same rules or we don’t.”

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin told the San Antonio Express News last week that the Longhorn Network once again has created “uncertainty” in the Big 12, which lost two schools a year ago and nearly disbanded all together.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters Tuesday, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said he has imposed a temporary halt on any plans by the network to broadcast high school games or any Texas football games other than the Longhorns’ season-opener against Rice.

Beebe will discuss the matter further with Big 12 athletic directors during a meeting Aug. 1; the NCAA is scheduled to address the issue at an Aug. 22 gathering.

Joking that he’s not the “Maytag repairman,” Beebe said he’s hopeful that the appropriate steps will be taken to resolve all disagreements.

“This,” Beebe said, “is an opportunity for us to show that we have an issue - a disagreement between members – and that we can come together and we can solve the issue, go forward and be just as strong as we’ve ever been.”

Time after time Tuesday, Beebe attempted to paint a positive picture about the state of the league. He suggested that reporters were over-reacting to the concerns addressed by Texas A&M and others, adding that the Big 12’s near-demise a year ago has led to knee-jerk reaction by fans and media members every time a new issue arises.

“With what we went through last year, we’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt,” Beebe said. “There are going to be vultures in the air, some of whom will see what’s going on and say, ‘Ah-ha! I told you this conference was going to fall apart.’ “

Beebe said he takes comfort in knowing that the “decision-makers” weren’t the ones expressing the highest amount of criticism. But that was a peculiar statement considering Texas A&M administrators – as well as coaches such as Stoops and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel – went out of their way to voice displeasure with the network’s direction.

Commissioner Dan Beebe tried to dispel concerns about Texas' television venture with ESPN.
(Kevin Jairaj/US Presswire)

Beebe said the latest issue represents “an internal squabble” between the conference’s 10 institutions and not a crack in the Big 12’s solidarity.

“We’ve got some [people] connected to some of our schools who think their schools should be [in another conference],” Beebe said. “Every time there’s any kind of issue, that element is going to rise up and say, ‘We need to go.’

“I don’t think any of the people in the decision-making process – or any of the coaches – feel that way at all.”

Beebe was informed by a reporter that an A&M official said earlier this week that about 60 percent of the school’s fans favored a move to the SEC. Beebe responded that A&M boosters “must not have been feeling that way for years because they’ve had a number of times throughout history when they’ve looked at that option and they haven’t gone in that direction.”

Beebe said a move to the SEC by Texas A&M would be the “wrong decision.”

“When you have that kind of rivalry, that kind of feeling about another school, it’s best to stay connected,” Beebe said of the Aggies and their relationship with Texas. “That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it exciting.

“When you get disconnected from your geographic region and your rivals, I think you’ve got a big problem.”

Although he didn’t make any promises, Beebe said he “couldn’t conceive” of a scenario that would allow the Longhorn Network to broadcast high school games, which should pacify some of the disgruntled parties. He said the issue arose because ESPN “got out ahead of us with what they thought they could do.”

“Whenever there’s an issue,” Beebe said, “whenever there looks like there’s a fissure within our institutions, we’re going to be pounced upon by a number of you in the media and the public that are going to say, ‘This is it. I can’t wait to see the train wreck.’

“There are people who take satisfaction in other people’s suffering.”

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Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jul 26, 2011